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.

The next chapter: 2013 in review

I think it’s important to recognize all the good things one accomplishes.  With regard to my writing, 2013 has been a banner year.  I haven’t seen its like in … well a very long time.

You may remember way back at the beginning of the year what I wrote about resolutions, how I’m not fond of them, and how I prefer to make reasonable goals so I can have a chance to reach them.

It worked a charm for me.

I wrote four (soon to be five) new short stories this year and revised six others for submission. This has resulted in three fiction publications (one paid), and another three poetry publications.

While the goal of Kasie Whitener’s Just Write Challenge was to write thirteen stories in 2013, I think that eleven was pretty darn good, considering the other things that I’ve accomplished.

I sent Initiate of Stone for a content edit in January and revised the whole thing twice. I’ve now sent the manuscript to select beta-readers and have sent it off to one agent and will ship it to one editor shortly.

In the mean time, I started on a middle grade fantasy, Gerod and the Lions, and drafted Figments, a YA fantasy, during NaNoWriMo.

Since the end of November, I’ve given myself a bit of a break. I’ve written a crap-load this year (because in addition to the 11 short stories, poetry, revisions, and the 50k+ draft, I’ve also tried to keep things rolling with my blog) and felt the distinct need for a rest before diving back into things in 2014.

Though I was not able to meet my goal of revising my blog (reader response seemed to indicate it wasn’t a priority) or moving to self-hosted WordPress, those goals remain on the list.  This time last year, I managed to accrue 100 followers on my blog. Now I’m over 222. While I’m still considering a newsletter, I continue to hold off. Until I have a novel out, I’m not certain a newsletter will have much value.

This year I also attended the Canadian Authors Association’s (CAA’s) CanWrite! Conference (June) and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (October). Both were amazing experiences, and I learned a huge amount from the sessions at both conferences.

Currently, though my services haven’t been much requested of recent months, I’m sitting on the CAA’s Program Committee, and so putting some of my efforts into not only the CanWrite! Conference, but also, the Literary Awards, the Roving Writers Program, and other events.

As a reward for all my hard work, I’m going to be investing in Scrivener, thanks to the NaNo

Scrivener (software)

Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reward discount, and purchasing the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents.

As far as what I’m aiming for in the New Year, stay tuned. I’ll have a post on more reasonable goals coming up next week.

books for sale!

books for sale! (Photo credit: bookgrl)

In the meantime, please share your accomplishments. It really helps to put them down in writing. I think when you see everything you’ve managed over the last year in print, you’ll be amazed. I was.

Then celebrate! You were fantastic! And you know what? So was I 😉

Sorry, couldn’t help the Doctor Who reference. Geek girls rule!

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection)

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection) (Photo credit: ChocolateFrogs)

Lauren Carter: Deep Character Workshop, Oct. 6, 2013

I spent the afternoon with Lauren Carter, her mother, Laura (a visual artist with a good feel for story), and five other wonderful writers talking, and writing, about character.

SwarmcoverLauren is on a tour to promote her literary dystopian novel, Swarm, which was released in September by Brindle & Glass publishing.  She’s been to Orillia and Blind River (both places she used to live), and has made a stop in Sudbury for a couple of days before she heads south to continue her journey.

As part of her Sudbury leg, Lauren agreed to offer a writing workshop for the Canadian Authors Association Roving Writers program.  Tomorrow night, she will be giving a reading at the south end branch of the Greater Sudbury Public Library as part of the Luminaries reading series.

Lauren indicated that nothing she had to teach was proprietary and so I’m going to offer a bit of a run down of her workshop.

  • Lauren is a firm believer that there are no rules in writing.
  • People come to writing as artists – organically.
  • Character is important in prose, even in plot-based fiction, someone has to be at the heart of the action.
  • The reader (and therefore the writer) must know those characters intimately.
  • Each writer will have her or his approach.
  • All great art begins at a point of absolute confusion.
  • Writers make decisions about their characters.

Eric Maisel – characters are not people, they are in the novel to serve the writer.

We then reviewed two writing samples: Matadora, by Elizabeth Ruth and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  We looked at the clues the writers offered about their characters, their backgrounds, the techniques used to engage the reader in the character, how descriptions were used, and so forth.

Lauren passed out a character development questionnaire put together by Kathy Page.  We didn’t use it, however.  Not yet.

Then followed the first of several writing assignments.  This first focused on character description.

Next, we wrote specifically about a possession or place specific to the character, like a purse, car, or room.

Then we focused in on a specific object within the last writing assignment and worked with that.

Finally, after having gotten to know our characters a bit better, Lauren guided us back to the questionnaire and focused the next writing assignment on that.  Having written through a few iterations of describing our characters through physicality, place, and possessions, it was not easier to enter into the details of the list and discover even more.

The last writing assignment took all that we’d learned about our characters and focused on plot. This was set up by another reading from Eric Maisel about “The writer as Experimental Psychologist” taken from his book, What Would your Character Do?

Essentially, plot is a matter of answering three questions:

  1. What does the character want?
  2. Why does the character want it?
  3. How will the character achieve his or her goal (or not)?

After that, it’s a matter of the author rigorously testing the hypothesis she or he has developed until all three questions are answered satisfactorily.

So first, we explored our characters’ psychological make-up; then, we answered the first of the three questions.

Each writing assignment was a free-write and delivered with the instruction to follow the writing wherever it led.  In several cases the characters did, as they are notoriously known to do, their own things 😉

It was a good workshop, and I was happy to have been part of it.

Workshop alert: Lauren Carter Oct 6, 2013

You may remember that I’ve become a member of the Program Committee for the Canadian Authors Association.

The committee is responsible for the annual conference, the Literary Awards, professional development of the membership, and something called the Roving Writers program.

I volunteered to be on the sub-committee for the Roving Writers and our first event will be in a scant week!

Author Lauren Carter will be coming to Sudbury as part of her book tour.  So on Sunday, Oct 6, from 1-4 pm at the Parkside Older Adult Centre in the YMCA building, she will be delivering a workshop on Deep Character.

Here’s the poster with the deets (including how to sign up):

RWTP_Carter Poster

The CAA office will be sending me a copy of the participant list and I will be taking payment (cash or cheque only, please) at the door. The discounted fee of $25 applies to members of the CAA only.

Light refreshments (fruit, muffins, water, and juice) will be provided.

I can’t thank the Sudbury Writers’ Guild enough for their assistance in getting this event off the ground.

Following that, on Monday, Oct 7, Lauren will be at the south end branch of the Greater Sudbury Public Library as part of the first LUminaries reading series.  This has nothing to do with the CAA or the Roving Writers, but I thought I’d spread the word.

She will, of course, have copies of her dystopian literary novel, Swarm, available for sale and signing.

Have a lovely evening!

CanWrite! 2013: Gala and wrap post

Before I begin, I’ll apologize for the apparently drunken photo-taking.  I’m still getting used to the camera in my Galaxy Note II 😛

On Saturday evening (June 15), conference attendees were shuttled out to the Best Western conference centre for out Gala event and announcing of the winners of the CAA literary awards.

Gathering for the Gala

Gathering for the Gala

Our master of ceremonies for the evening was Bruce Pirrie, Second City alumnus and writer for the Red Green Show.

The evening’s events picked up after dinner with an introductory monologue from Bruce about the dubious joys of being a comedy writer.

Then Charles Foran took the podium with an impassioned plea from PEN Canada.  While the organization is best known for its work overseas on behalf of writers and free speech (a current campaign focuses on the events in Turkey), PEN Canada has noticed a disturbing trend here in Canada with the censorship of Canadian scientists and the digital freedom controversy.

Charles Foran

Charles Foran

PEN needs writers everywhere to stand up for the right to free speech and fight the oppression of censorship.  To this end, they are conducting a membership drive until the end of June.  Please consider joining this worthy organization.

Andrew Westoll

Andrew Westoll

Matt Bin

Matt Bin

Next was Andrew Westoll, Author of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary.  Andrew presented the stories of three of the Fauna chimps, their individual struggles, and the rewards their caregivers reap.  It was an amazingly touching presentation.

Then, President Matthew Bin introduced the CAA literary awards.  Originally started in 1937, the awards were the “for authors, by authors” recognition of excellence in Canadian literature.  They became the Governor General’s Awards and administration of them assumed by the Canada Council for the Arts.  More recently, in 1975, the Canadian Authors Association has once again started their awards program.

Here is the list of the winners.

It was a fabulous evening and I was inspired by having been a part of it.

_______________________________________________________________________

The rest of the story

I have been a professional member of the CAA since I joined a few years ago.  As such, I have voting privileges at the annual general meeting.  Two years ago, I expressed interest in taking part in the program committee.

This year, I was invited to join it.

The program committee has a fairly sweeping mandate, including the CAA literary awards and the annual conference.  Also on the list of responsibilities are professional development programs (where my greatest interest is), the roving writers program, editor-in-residence program, members’ book catalogue, and contests.  I’m a little daunted but I have great fellow committee members and a great chair to work with.  Our role is primarily to set policy and make key decisions.  We won’t be doing the leg work, but I can see some of that happening.

There are exciting times ahead for the CAA as it also embarks of a “twig” program and membership drive.

The web site is also undergoing a long-overdue revamp and should be far more oriented to service to the CAA’s membership.

I’ve made some writerly connections: Sharif Khan, author of The Psychology of the Hero Soul, John McDonell, and Vikki Vansickle.  I reconnected with some old friends too: Sandra Stewart attended for the weekend only, as did Betty Guenette, another member of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.  I reconnected with Sue Reynolds and James Dewar (one of my fellow program committee members), who I’d last seen at the Algonkian conference in the fall.  I met a lot of authors, and bought a lot of books (!)

It was a wonderful experience.  I just wish items like Hermione Granger’s Time Turner actually existed, so I could see and experience everything 😉

Coming up: I’ll be returning to my weekends-only schedule, starting with some long-overdue book reviews.

CanWrite! 2013: Day 3 Traditional vs. self-publishing panel

The day 3 (June 15) panel, featured Halli Villegas of Tightrope Books, Sheila Mahoney, Certified Copyeditor and Editors’ Association of Canada Director of Professional Standards, and Tom Taylor, self-published author of Brock’s Agent, Brock’s Railroad, and Brock’s Traitor.

Once again, James Dewar acted as moderator.

JD: Should an author go for a traditional deal, or self-publish?

TT: There are many ways to skin this cat.  I have a publisher in the UK, but did the Canadian editions myself.  All the big marketing budgets have gone by the wayside in any case (Penguin, ECW). You have to invest money in your own promotion regardless.

SM: Know what you’re willing to do.  If you know you can invest the time and money, then do it.  It cost one client $25000, but mistakes were made.  What’s an acceptable risk?

HV: It’s not either/or but how and when?  Speaking tours can be difficult to arrange depending on your genre.  Publishers do have a lot of resources that can help in some situations.  It’s a matter of choice.  For example for academic clients and libraries, there’s Coutts.  They’ll order a set number of copies for distribution to their clients.  Also, there’s BowkerLINK, which offers sales and marketing information.  Publishers can get the proper ISBN barcodes for the cover.  Your books can be featured in catalogues for booksellers and distributors.

TT: It’s business and you have to approach it like that.  Where will your books sell?  Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge is a rare bookstore, very entrepreneurial.  There’s a bakery in the Niagara region where I’ve sold more books (about 300) than at most bookstores.  The owner will talk the books up to customers, many of whom are tourists.  You have to know how to market wisely.

Here’s what I invested and how I recovered the costs:

  • Line edit: $1500
  • Substantive edit: $1500
  • Layout (internal and cover design): $3000
  • Printing: $4000 (2000 copies at $2 each)
  • Total: $10000

To break even, I had to sell 1000 copies of the book at $10 a piece.  Everything else was profit.

SM: Certified editors are best but they don’t come cheap.  Independent editors, some are good and some are bad.  Design is important.  You should make your book a pleasure to read.

TT: I don’t necessarily want everyone to spend $10000 only to fail.  Your comfort level must be considered.  Editing is paramount.  The package is the product (like the media is the message—Marshall McLuhan).

SM: The people who love you are not going to be honest with you.   There’s a difference between line editing and copy editing and substantive editing.  Know what you need and what you’re paying for.

JD: Agents can take over part of the substantive.

TT: Maybe self-publishing is not for you, but if you’ve done the work up front, if you have a fully edited manuscript and a beautiful layout and a lovely cover ready to go, how much more interested will a potential publisher be?  Media coverage is important as well.  Get the word out however you can.  Chapters will take books on consignment too.  Check with your local store.

Ultimately, there were no real answers in this presentation as to whether traditional or self-publishing is better.  It’s an individual decision for every author.  There was a lot of good information that could come in handy regardless of whether you go for a traditional deal or self-publish.

Tomorrow: The Gala and wrap-up post.

See you then!

CanWrite! 2013: Open mic, Andrew Pyper, and Cordelia Strube

I already mentioned the welcome reception and the morning creative writing circles, but have since launched into panels and sessions without mentioning what happened the evenings of June 13 and 14.

Back-pedalling now …

Open mic and shortlist readings

On June 13, interested parties were encouraged to sign up for the open mic.  I did and intended to read the revised opening of my novel as I had at Wordstock, then at supper I heard that the readings would be restricted to five minutes.  This was reduced to three by the time I arrived due to the number of last minute sign-ups.

Not having brought my poetry with me that night, I read as much of my opening as I could.  It was well-received.

Other readers offered their poetry and stories (one humorous one was about discovering one was having a heart attack while on the toilet – shades of Elvis) the organizers sticking strictly to the three-minute limit.

June 14 was to have been readings from the authors short listed for the CAA Literary Awards, but again, a last-minute change opened the floor to additional readers.  I signed up and brought my poetry, a much more appropriate genre for the three-minute limit.

I got to hear the end of the Elvis story and some more great poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

I enjoyed the readings from the short listed works.  With one exception, none of them could show up in person.  The man who did was Michael S. Cross, author of A Biography of Robert Baldwin: The Morning-Star of Memory (Oxford University Press).

Michael’s reading was wonderful.  I didn’t know Robert Baldwin was such a fascinating character.

Another fascinating author was Jane Doe. She read from her book The Story of Jane Doe.  She is an advocate and activist and her story is a compelling one.  I encourage everyone who has an interest in women’s issues, advocacy, or the attitudes of the legal system to victims of rape and violent crime to pick up this book.

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper is the author of six novels, most recently, The Demonologist.

Andrew’s session was on the afternoon of June 14, and it was as much workshop as presentation.

The session, Getting organized, getting started, focused on the essential elements required before an author begins to write a novel.

  1. An Idea;
  2. A Premise;
  3. A Protagonist;
  4. A Hook;
  5. A Structure; and
  6. An Outline.

He also offered six tips for overcoming roadblocks.

One of the most interesting pieces of his presentation was about ideas.  Yes, one must have at least one good idea to propel one’s plot, but the author shouldn’t stop there.

Traditional thought and misconception would imply that one idea must be made big enough to become the basis for a novel.  Andrew suggested that rather than one idea expanding to fit a novel, that a multitude of ideas should funnel down and feed into a single novel.

This made a lot of sense to me, and when I think about it, that’s how I write fiction.  I never write about one thing.

The premise is distinguished from the main idea of the novel because of its scope.  Andrew’s explanation reminded me of Larry Brooks’s.

He offered the following example:

Idea: A modern-day Frankenstein.

Premise: Archaeologists extract DNA from mosquitoes trapped in pre-historic amber and use it to clone dinosaurs. A philanthropist establishes a theme park around the beasts and invites a select group of scientists and family to witness his triumph; then the beasts escape (Jurassic Park).

The key to a premise is “high concept,” a concept that can be evasive.  This is why Larry Brooks is forever explaining the difference between idea, concept, and premise on his site 😉

Andrew had us write our premises for the Rob Ford story.  As expected, we all had different takes on the well-publicized scandal.

I won’t give away the whole of Andrew’s session, but I will say that it was informative and fun.

Cordelia Strube

Cordelia Strube’s session, on the afternoon of June 15, was mostly workshop.  She’d actually had workshops on both afternoons (14th and 15th) and anticipated that conference-goers would attend both, but a miscommunication occurred and the message was never conveyed to attendees.

Cordelia has published eight funny, powerful, sparse, cathartic and critically acclaimed novels, among them Alex & Zee, Teaching Pigs to Sing, The Barking Dog, Blind Night, and Lemon. Her ninth, Milosz was published last year.

Her plan was to have participants from the first session return and revise the work they had started the day before.  Those of us who only came on the second day would have to start from scratch.

Cordelia gave us a framework and some strategies for getting into our focused writing.  She then distributed horoscopes and a number of other prompts: postcards, small items, all of which were to inform our writing project for the afternoon.

After we were sent off to write however and wherever we wished, the class was asked to share the results of their writing.

It was an excellent session.

________________________________________________________________________

I should take a moment to mention that there were a number of sessions happening concurrently on Friday and Saturday afternoons.  I can only report on the ones that I attended.

Specialty sessions, at a nominal additional cost, also took place during the mornings.

There were also agent pitch sessions occurring Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings.  Though I did not opt into these, they were very popular and booked solid.

I like the way in which they were conducted.  Each author was to submit their query letter and first five pages of their novel in advance of the pitch session.  I think that this is a much better way to conduct pitches than to do them blindly.  It’s better for the agents because they have a sense of the author’s work.  It’s better for the writer because they don’t only have their two to five minutes to convey the meat of their novel.

A professional photographer was also on site to take author shots for the attendees.  I happily paid the (again, nominal) fee for this.  I should have the results next week and I hope they will be better than my efforts to date.

Tomorrow: The final panel, Traditional vs. Self-publishing.

G’night y’all 🙂

CanWrite! 2013: Day 2 agents’ panel

After another morning of creative writing and lunch, conference-goers again gathered in the academic building for the 1 pm Agents’ Panel Discussion.

James Dewar acted as moderator for the panel, which consisted of: Sam Hiyate, president of The Rights Factory and Carly Watters, agent at the P.S. Literary Agency.

JD: What are you looking for right now?

CW: Picture books; contemporary YA (thriller/mystery, romance); women’s fiction; upmarket; non-fiction; and multi-media.

SH: New agents are looking for new clients. I’m full up myself, right now, but occasionally I do sign the odd author.  For non-fiction, a platform is essential. Most non-fiction sells on proposal alone.

JD: What can a fiction writer do to obtain representation?

CW: Write an amazing novel.  Platform does not matter.

SH: Debut novelists—sometimes even established ones—can fail to sell.  I like a strong voice, someone who can perform acrobatics with a sentence.

CW: I have a more commercial taste, a Book Club book would appeal to me.

JD: How do you move an “almost there” author to “there”?

SH: I’m a different beast than most agents and will work with the writer to edit the work.  Most agents won’t.  Others will set the writer up with a freelance editor.

CW: I’ll write an edit letter to the writer if the good stuff is REALLY GOOD.  Some books are edited seven times before they are sent to a publisher.  If the writer has the ability to turn their MS around quickly, the chances are better.

SH: My best advice is to find an agent who “gets you.”

JD: What should authors NOT do?

SH: Don’t send your MS in too early.

CW: In a pitch session, do not go through your whole synopsis.

SH: Sometimes the pitch or query can be better than the book.

JD: We’ll open the floor to audience questions (AQ) now.

AQ: Do I need an agent first, or can I approach a publisher directly?

CW: Agent first.  Most larger publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.

SH: An agent can say “no,” however.  An editor will refer the author to an agent anyway.  Send it and see what happens.

AQ: What does an agent do?

SH: Our job is to create a competitive situation around your book.

AQ: Can you have more than one agent?

SH: We contract exclusively, much like a real estate agent would.  Your book is the property we’re selling.  Our commission is 15% on domestic and 20% on foreign sales.

AQ: In the context of the “Literary Apocalypse” of self- and ebook publishing, do writers even need publishers anymore?

CW: Some agencies have publishing arms, but it gets complicated.

SH: Self-publishing is a new way for agents to discover talent.  Eventually, all the good material gets scooped up by the publishers.  Cases in point: Amanda Hocking, E.L. James, and Hugh Howey.

CW: These are exceptions to the rule.  Agents can’t turn $10k ebook sales into a traditional deal, but if you sell $200k+, that’s different.

SH: In the future, writers will have more control.

AQ: If an author has published a book but is not happy with the rights (terms) is there anything that can be done?

SH: No, if the rights have already been contracted out, that’s it.  Most agents won’t negotiate a bad contract for you, though.  Publishing houses and agencies start out with really talented, committed, and enthusiastic people who are grossly underpaid, for like ten years.  In that time, the ones who can’t maintain their passion leave for greener pastures.  The ones who can, become successful.

The agents’ panel was great, and both Sam and Carly were professional and up front with their insiders’ looks into the publishing world.

Tomorrow: I’ll cover Day 1 and Day 2 evening events, and Day 2 and 3 afternoons with Andrew Pyper and Cordelia Strube.  That will leave the Awards Gala and wrap-up posts.  So three more days, and it’s all over!

Don’t despair, there will be lots more Writerly Goodness coming your way this summer.  Book reviews and hopefully some more author interviews, pupdates (yes, there’s at least one more coming), and updates regarding the backyard office (interesting things afoot there).  I’ll also have some updates on my work in progress and any other conferences or events that I get to.

I will be returning to my weekends-only posting schedule after this week, though.  Blogging every day, though fun for a short period, takes up a lot of writing time (!)  My goal is to have my current revision done before the summer’s out.

Until tomorrow!

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.

CanWrite! 2013: Day 1 Publishing Panel

For the most part, for the panels and sessions, I’m just going to be transcribing my notes, as written.  I’ll attempt to offer some context, however.

After the morning writing circle and some networking time at lunch, it was onto the Publishing Panel.  On the panel were Halli Villegas, publisher of Tightrope Books, Christie Harkin, children’s book publisher and editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, and Anita Chong, senior editor at McClelland & Stewart.

In later panels, I noted the speakers, but for this first one, I didn’t have the presence of mind to think of it.  My apologies to the publishers.

The panel was called Changes in the Publishing Landscape.

  • Larger publishers are finding that their biggest book-buyers are going to non-traditional (not brick and mortar bookstores) sellers to get their books (Costco, Walmart). Books are now competing with groceries (!)
  • Smaller presses are going back to events, launches, readings, etc.
  • Fewer stand-alone poetry books being published.
  • LGBT is gaining in popularity.  More mindful of the community they write for and have to market to.
  • Everyone feels like they have to dance to Amazon’s tune, though that may not be accurate.
  • Chapters/Indigo has a very short return policy now.  Books are being returned before they have a chance to get any traction.
  • Inventory control is important to the big booksellers.
  • Chapters/Indigo may buy 5000 copies of a book for all their chains.  Most come back (about 2/3).
  • Some publishers have to increase a print run, or go into a second printing to meet these orders.  This puts them further behind the eight ball.  They’ve suffered a loss before they’ve even got their books in stores.
  • All the indies order books too, increasing the pressure for a large print run.  Smaller publishers are suffering.
  • There is increasing specialization in publishing.  No more generalists.
  • What authors need to know most: DO YOUR RESEARCH!  All the information you need is on the websites of the publishers.
  • Go to the bookstore. Who’s publishing books like yours?  Look at the acknowledgements of these books: agents and editors are often among those thanked.
  • Don’t follow the trends. Erotic zombies?  (LOL)  Stick to your guns.  It’s not either/or but how far are you willing to go and how much are you willing to do?
  • Children’s books are not marketed to children, but to those who buy books for their children: parents, teachers, etc.
  • Print on demand (POD) doesn’t work in most cases.  There are restrictions.  Minimum print runs may still be required to break even.  POD kiosks offer poor quality product.  POD is not viable even at larger publishers.
  • Still on POD.  Short run = 250.  Medium run = 250-1000.  Watch how POD affects your contracts.  It has an impact on what’s considered to be in print.  If your rights don’t revert to you until after the book is out of print and POD technically means that the book never truly goes out of print, you may not get your rights back (!)
  • Electronic publishing is better, regardless of the venue chosen.
  • Publishers generally give 50% of their profits to distributors, booksellers, etc.  Publishing is not as lucrative as you think.  Ebooks lose only 30% (or less).
  • Publishers are looking for new talent all the time.
  • Unsolicited submissions can result in publication, but rarely.  Same with the slush pile.  DO. YOUR. RESEARCH.
  • Writers Reserve from the Ontario Arts Council.  $$ for writers.  Publishers apply for it and use the $$ to pay their authors.
  • Ask agents and publishers what they are looking for.  Write to order (if you can).

It was great to see three fabulous and articulate women take the stage.

Tomorrow: Publicity and marketing sessions: Good, bad, and downright ugly.