Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, May 28-June 3, 2017

Just a little thoughty this week.

Canada is not 150 years old. Greg and Mitch (ASAP Thought and ASAP Science)


Ossie Michelin explains how to talk about Indigenous people. CBC


Dan Van Winkle: at Cannes, Jessica Chastain calls out the real problem with how women are portrayed in film. The Mary Sue

Neuroscience reveals four rituals that contribute to happiness. Eric Barker for Ladders.

Bec Crew reports that only half of your friends actually like you. Science Alert

Natalie Zarrelli reveals the knitting spies of WWII. Atlas Obscura

Phil Plait: we thought Jupiter was weird; now we’re finding out just how weird. Blastr

Later in the week, Phil reports how astronomers may have seen a star collapse directly into a black hole. And then, two merging black holes, 3 billion light years away send ripples of spacetime through Earth.

Veritasium covers the two black holes merging, too.


Anthony Brooks reports on Brisco the pit bull, who rescued his owner’s neighbors from a home invasion. Good dog! The Miami Gazette

I hope something in that lot got your mental corn popping 🙂


See you on the weekend.

Be well until then.


Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Jan 1-7, 2017

It’s quality over quantity this week.

Charles Foran wonders if Canada is the world’s first post-national country. The Guardian

Wab Kinew: there is room in our circle for Joseph Boyden. The Globe and Mail

Matt Ayton asks, why don’t we stand with Turkey like we did with Orlando and Paris? The Independent

William Deresiewicz: how to learn how to think. Farnham Street explores the sleeping habits of the Middle Ages.

Jo Marchant digs into this 3,500 year old Mycenae tomb and how it changes what we know about history. The Smithsonian Magazine

George Dvorsky reports on the discovery of a stunning new type of galaxy. Gizmodo

Maddie Stone shares the most detailed view of black holes in the universe. Gizmodo

Lauren Jarvis-Gibson lists eleven things people don’t realize you do because of your anxiety. Thought Catalog

On the Hearty Soul: how complaining rewires your brain to be anxious and depressed.

Daily Health Records lists fifteen things you’ll notice when you’re in the presence of an empath.

Here’s hoping something got your mental corn popping 🙂

On Saturday, I return to WorldCon 2016 reporting.

Be well until then!


Query letters that work with Adrienne Kerr

Adrienne_KerrAdrienne Kerr is the senior editor for commercial fiction at Penguin Canada.  She’s worked in various book-oriented occupations for seventeen years (gosh, she must have started as a kid).

Adrienne ran the session alone and we had a fabulous time.

Here are my notes:

  • Everyone has to hustle.
  • Harness your enthusiasm.
  • Craft your query as carefully as you craft your novel.
  • Find out what your target agent or editor has sold or acquired recently.


  • Writers have the power.  Act like it.
  • Start with your bookshelves.  Pick out your favourite books.  Look at the acknowledgements.  Authors always thank their agents and editors.
  • Next, go to your library or bookstore and do the same thing.
  • Then go on line.  Look at the agencies.  Look at the submission guidelines.  Anything less than 100% compliance is a waste of everyone’s time.
  • Be open to the process; be delightful to work with.
  • Editors are hidden.  They’re not on-line.  Traditionally, they don’t take unsolicited submissions.  Now, they’re taking a more active role in ferreting out new talent.
  • Check out Publishers’ Marketplace.  Search through 14 years worth of deals.  Each entry has a logline attached.

Loglines – you need one

  • What if – so what formula
    25 words or less.  Convey major conflict.
    Answers so what.
  • Hollywood style
    It’s X meets Y.
    Mash-up of famous books and/or movies.
  • Save the Cat method
    A sentence or two, ironic, compelling, genre/audience-targeted, killer title.
  • Blurb-based
    Who/what the hero wants and why.
    Focus on conflict.
  • Comps must be realistic.  Consider the sales numbers and the social media imprint.
  • Indicate your job only if pertinent (e.g. a lawyer who writes legal thrillers).
  • Agents will use your query/logline/synopsis to sell.
  • Editors will use your query/logline/synopsis for marketing.
  • You will use it when someone asks what your book is about.

The rest of the session was spent critiquing loglines and queries volunteered from the attendees.  I was still working on mine and didn’t speak up, but there were some pretty interesting projects pitched and some effective improvements were crowd-sourced.

I will be finishing off my SiWC posts one per day.

Until tomorrow, mes amis!

CanWrite! 2013: Day 1 publicity and marketing sessions

As promised yesterday, I’m going to talk about the good, bad, and downright ugly.

To start with …

The Good

I’ll start with Vikki Vansickle’s Mapping your Market presentation.

Vikki was enthusiastic, energetic, and clearly loves what she does, on both sides of the board.  Vikki is an author and a marketer, recently moving to Penguin Books (congratulations!).

Vikki has published four middle-grade (MG) novels since 2010.

  • So what do you do when you get published?
  • Celebrate!  Tell EVERYONE.  You never know who your champion will be.  Word of mouth is still king.
  • Do some research (yes, it’s important in marketing too).  How do you find the books you like?  Work outward: How does someone like you in Houston, Whitehorse, or Harrison Hot Springs find the books she likes to read?  That’s where you want to go, to get in front of the wave.
  • Who wants to read your book?  Who needs to read your book?
  • Comparative novels (comps) are critical.  It doesn’t even need to be a novel, as long as it’s in popular culture.  “If you like X, you’ll love XXX!”  “It’s Dirty Dancing without the dirty :)”  “It’s Looking at the Moon meets The Summer I Turned Pretty.”
  • Who is your ideal reader?  Define her in every detail.  Who are your potential readers (again work outward)?
  • Your elevator pitch should be about the length of a Tweet.  You have to tell people what your novel is about in pithy, taut, engaging sentences.
  • Be prepared to wear different hats.
  • Instagram is big with kids.  Facebook’s where their parents are (ew!).
  • Goodreads is great for more mature readers.
  • Writers Cafe (dot) org can help you with critique, beta readers, contests, conferences, etc.
  • Find your niche and identify specialized groups that will help you reach your readers.
  • The Ontario Blog Squad will set up blog tours.  6 blogs.  You create the content.
  • Twitter giveaways.  People love free stuff!  Specify Canada only.  Make sure they enter using a Retweet (RT) and including a hashtag specific to you, your book, or blog.  This helps to spread the word to all of your participant’s followers (and so on, and so on).

The Bad

I won’t tell you the guy’s name, or who he works for, but he’s a publicist.  I thought a publicist would be better spoken, honestly.

His session had some good information, but he was almost too relaxed, too casual.  At times I thought he was bored with the topic.  At times he went off on tangents or mumbled.  He decided to wing it.  He didn’t have a plan.

  • Print ads are not an effective use of funds.
  • Look for web magazines that have “up fronts” (= previews) especially if they have a print tie in.
  • A platform is not essential for fiction writers, but is absolutely key for non-fiction.
  • In fiction, the publisher may work with the writer to build the platform.
  • Build your relationship with your publisher.
  • A P/L or profit /loss sheet may determine what will be expected.  Analysis determines what the most appropriate action or angle may be.
  • Do you have a business or profession related to your book?
  • Books = cultural entertainment product.
  • You have to engage your readership on social media (SoMe).
  • Some publishers spend more $$ on authors than others.  This will be different in the States.
  • If a publicist is assigned, it’s usually for 3 months.  On-shelf promotion (during the initial sales period of the book).
  • Marketing is different for every book.
  • Book trailers are too expensive to be effective.
  • Applications (apps) are even more inefficient and more expensive.

The Downright Ugly

One thing that emerged early on in the session and coloured the remainder of it was that this publicist works for a small imprint of a larger publisher and in non-fiction (politics, sports, world events).  His clients are men and of the imprints authors only a third were women.

He made an off-hand remark about the ladies liking their beach reads.  Fatal mistake when speaking to an audience of 90% women.

To be fair, I have to say that I don’t think the young man realized that he’d just insulted his audience unforgivably.  Even after several women from the audience spoke up and made some very salient points, I’m not sure our publicist got it, or if he did, he was so scared, he didn’t know how to save himself with any grace.

I think it has to do with the publishing environment he works in every day, his mentors, his colleagues.  I think the sexism is so ingrained, so rampant in his sector of the industry, that he wasn’t fully conscious of the prejudices he promoted.

For the remainder of the conference, our publicist was the topic of conversation, and not in a good way.

It immediately brought to mind Chuck Wendig’s posts on sexism and misogyny in publishing.

It’s not a problem that has an easy answer.

Tomorrow: I’ll be moving onto the Day 2 panel and session.

Building your writing resume: three points to consider

This topic has come up in a peripheral way on Wordsmith Studio: As an unpublished, or even as a not-recently-published author, what can you do to bolster your writing resume?  I say peripheral, because the actual question asked was whether it was worthwhile to enter contests because many of the entry fees are expensive/potentially prohibitive.  I believe the question was posed in the context of accruing publishing credits, however, and that’s when I started to think about this topic in earnest.

So for better or worse, here are my thoughts on the subject in the context of my personal experience.

1. Contests

Contests can be fun.  They can inspire you, particularly if they have a theme you can latch onto, and the deadline always helps to motivate.  The issue for me is that many contests in literary magazines, whether for poetry or prose, carry with them entry fees, and some of these can be as much as $40 (!) for a single entry.  If that entry is a single poem (not epic, they usually have line limits), or a 2000 word or fewer short story, you really have to weigh the benefits of paying someone to consider your work, which already carries with it a labour cost in author-hours spent writing/revising.

Food for thought: Value your work.  How much do you think it cost to write?  Even at minimum wage per hour (and I’d advise a higher value than that) it’s probably more than the entry fee.  How much are you willing to pay to have your work published?  In the beginning, we may all have to pay for this consideration, but it’s important to remember that unless you have a really good day-job, you’re going to reach the point of diminishing returns sooner than later.

Yes, you can write off the entry fees on your taxes if you claim your writing as self-employment, and yes, you often get a year’s subscription to the magazine or journal, which you can declare as income on your taxes as well, but you have to consider the relative cost for benefit.

For example: If you’re paying a $25 entry fee to receive and annual subscription worth $15 or $20, this may not be in your best interest.  Sure, you may stand to win $500 if you place first in the contest, but if the magazine or journal holding the contest is well-known, you’re going to be up against some stiff competition.  Take the possible purse out of the equation and work through your numbers again.  If you don’t win, or even place, will this still be a good investment for you?

Contests are sometimes a way for a magazine or journal to generate some fresh material, gain new subscribers, or refill the enterprise’s dwindling coffers.  If you like the journal and want to support them, consider a paid subscription and simply submit to them according to their submission specifications (see below) to see if you can get published by other means.

Further, most magazines and journals that hold contests receive so many entries that their judges cannot possibly comment, even in general terms, on the quality/suitability of your work.  Entering a contest may be a good experience, but if you’re aiming to get critical feedback, it’s not your best bet.

Note: The concerns for poetry are a little different than for prose, at least here in Canada.  A poet can rarely make even a meagre income from their work unless they self-publish, and even then, the costs of producing the anthology often outweigh the profits derived from sales.  A best-seller in terms of poetry might be 500 – 1000 copies and the poet often has to go on the road (or start up a YouTube or podcast channel to promote their work) to give public readings and drum up interest in their work.  In my experience, poets write for the love of poetry.  They’re not aiming to make money from the endeavour.  The fact of publication is often worth the cost, whatever it happens to be, and most poets are gainfully employed in other, though sometimes related professions, to offset the costs associated with their calling.

My advice: Look for contests that have low or no entry fees.  They do exist.

2. Calls for submission

Which brings us to our next consideration: calls for submissions.  Most magazines and journals do have their criteria for submission posted on their Web sites.  Occasionally, periodicals, or even publishers wishing to put out an anthology will have a themed call.

Like the contests listed above, themed calls can be fun and often for the same reasons (theme, deadline, etc.).  One consideration that you should keep in mind is the potential for resubmission.  If the theme is too specific or narrow, the story or poem produced thereby may not be suitable for submission elsewhere, unless another publisher is interested in Animal Bollywood, or Japanese Steampunk.

Note: Follow the submission guidelines carefully.  Many publications weed out submissions that are not perfectly aligned with their criteria, particularly the more popular or well-known ones that are flooded with the work of hopeful authors.

Some magazines close their submissions once they’ve received what they deem to be “enough.”  Usually, this has to do with their publication schedule.

For example: A quarterly (four times per year or every three months) that publishes three to four short stories per issue might close their submissions after receiving eighteen to twenty stories (a year’s worth plus a few back-ups) that they deem suitable for publication.

This can happen in any genre (poetry or fiction) or any genre within fiction or poetry (SF, fantasy, romance, mystery, etc.).  This only reinforces the importance of looking up the submission guidelines for whatever magazine or journal you choose to submit to.  If you rely on annual print publications to plan your submission strategy, this is especially important.  The periodical’s or publisher’s situation could have changed since the guide was produced.

Remuneration: These terms can also be found on most magazine’s or journal’s Web sites.  Often, for fiction, it will be a sliding scale of cents per word depending on the length of the story.  It may be a flat fee per poem.  Some journals, particularly poetry or literary journals, will only offer contributor copies, or a year’s subscription.  Once again, as with the contest entry fees, weigh the benefits of publication.

A note regarding online publications: Online publications may not offer contributor copies either (because there is no print version), and if relatively new, may not be able to pay much, if anything.  If they are established enough to have advertising income they may provide remuneration.  Once more, read carefully.

In most cases, it will be rare that a piece of creative writing submitted in response to a call will receive detailed commentary. Once again, it’s a matter of numbers.  If you had to read a hundred short stories, would you be able to give each one individual attention?  We’d all like to say that we would, but I think the reality is that after ten or so, we’d all admit to a certain amount of exhaustion.  And to be fair, why give commentary to a handful, when everyone deserves the same consideration?  This is why most publications will not go this particular extra mile.

If you do receive a few comments or pointers: excellent!  It means that your submission was good enough to merit some extra time and attention.  If the commentary is specific, take heed and use it to your best advantage.  If it’s simply complementary, keep it, and try not to use it as an excuse not to edit and revise before submitting the piece to another venue.

3. Resources

One of the most popular series of guides is the Writer’s Digest series: Writer’s Market, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, etc.  I might recommend a subscription to the Writers service, which will have resources/listings updated in real time and on a regular basis.

For Canadians there is The Canadian Writer’s Market, but I’ve found that WD has been getting better and better at keeping their Canadian listings up-to-date.  This may be a good resource for those dedicated to publishing in Canada.  It comes out less frequently than WD, and so checking out the individual Web sites of publishers and publications becomes very important.

While the Interwebz can provide a plethora of resources, I’ll recommend Duotrope as an excellent starting point.  The service is currently looking for donations to remain in operation as a free resource.  If you’ve used the service and found value in it, seriously consider donating.

That’s all the Alchemy Ink Writerly Goodness has for this week!

Until next time!