The Next Chapter: December 2014 update and a year in the writerly life

Janus has two heads so he can look back and ahead. Plus, you really can’t make meaningful progress unless you take some time to reflect on your accomplishments and understand where your journey has brought you to this point.

Let’s start with December, shall we?

In the wake of NaNoWriMo, I needed a wee respite from the purely creative writing. I kept up with my regular blog posts and caught up on a few things that happened in November that I had set aside posting about because of the aforementioned NaNo.

I returned to Marushka after a few days, though, because the force is strong in this one 😉 Also, I have to finish my shit (Wendigism).

Toward the end of the month, though, I wanted to get another short fiction submission revised and sent.

December 2014 writing progress

So at the end of the month, I’d written a total of 15,167 words, 8,812 of them on the blog, 6,234 on Marushka, and 121 on the short story.

What about 2014?

It was a good year, I think.

Since it was the first year I tracked my writerly output, I really have nothing to compare it to, but I know I’ve written more words in this year than I did in 2013 or any year before that.

The highlights:

“The Broken Places” was published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine in its June issue.

“On the Ferry” won second place in the In Places Between contest.

“Downtime” will be in the fall 2014 issue of On Spec Magazine. The issue hasn’t come out yet (long story short—please subscribe or support them on their Patreon page), but I’m still pleased as punch.

I have writerly income to report on my tax return for the second year in a row!

I’ve put “The Broken Places” and “Downtime” in the short story category in the Auroras. It’s my first year doing this kind of thing, so we’ll see how it goes.

Overall, I submitted six short stories for publication. This is fewer than in past years, but given my greater focus on my larger projects, I’m happy with this.

I attended Ad Astra, CanWrite!, and When Words Collide conferences, and workshops by Brian Henry and The Humber School for Writers.

In 2014, I have written:

  • 110,361 words on this blog
  • 34,589 words on Marushka
  • 21,464 words on Gerod and the Lions
  • 3,521 words of short fiction
  • 3,161 words on Apprentice of Wind
  • 2,384 words on Figments
  • Total: 175,480

2014 Summary

That’s a fuckload of words. Sorry. I felt the profanity appropriate.

Plus, I mapped out and reverse engineered both IoS and Figments, and revised some of IoS.

I am still eternally grateful to Jamie Raintree for her wonderful Excel spreadsheet. This year’s has enough project slots that I don’t have to modify it 🙂 Also, it appears to have a way to track drafting and revisions. I’m excited to see how it works out.

For the second year in a row, the most popular posts on my blog have been those I wrote back in 2012. Dress for Success has been consistently popular. I didn’t think a post about writing in my pyjamas would have been so compelling. Go figure.

Eight Metaphors for Persistence . . . is also a heavily viewed post. I appreciate that a bit more because it was the first post on this iteration of the blog and spoke to how I picked up the pieces after being hacked.

Still, I would like to see some of my book reviews, or conference reportage posts, rank higher.

My overall views on the blog went down from last year. In 2013 I filled the Sydney Opera House five times. In 2014 I only filled it four times.

I take all this with a grain of salt, however, as the number of my followers through WordPress has only grown and at 373, I’m closing in on 400 followers. That’s not bad for three years of blogging when I don’t have a book to sell.

Those who receive my posts via email, or who can read them through WordPress may not be counted because they haven’t actually visited the site.

Personally, as long as you’re enjoying what you read, I’m good. I’m a fan of the slow build.

What’s ahead for 2015?

I’ve you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll know I don’t go in for resolutions. I set goals and manage my projects on an ongoing basis, sometimes re-evaluating and adjusting my goals to account for the dreaded scope creep 🙂

That’s all stuff I learned from the project management I have to do for work. It’s also similar to the dreaded underwear creep (damnit, not another wedgie).

In all seriousness, I intend to revise and submit several more short stories throughout the year. I also intend to write a few new ones.

I intend to finish my first drafts of Marushka (goal length approximately 76,000 words) and GatL (goal length approximately 50,000 words). I can manage this at a pace of about 5,000 words a month. I’ll finish Marushka first, because it’s where my head is at the moment, and then return to work on GatL afterward.

I will revise IoS and finally (FINALLY) start querying. This is so long overdue, I can’t even. Can’t. Even.

I will move onto revisions of Figments once I start querying IoS.

I will map and reverse engineer AoW and probably Marushka.

I don’t think I’ll be able to manage much more than that for the bulk of the year.

I will again engage in the NaNoWriMo Challenge, even though I will be working through the month of November. I was very pleased with the 2014 results, even though it wasn’t a “win,” per se.

For financial reasons, I’m going to stay close to home this year with conferences and conventions. Most likely Ad Astra and Can-Con.

My big expense, professional development-wise, will be a writing retreat in the summer (if I can swing the leave from work—summer’s a peak time and it’s always a big deal), also local.

I’m facilitating my first writing workshop in years in February. You know I’ll be blogging that one 🙂

And the rest will be based on opportunities as they come my way.

I like preparing my Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday curation posts on the weekend for easier distribution (and more writing time) through the week.

Aside from that, the bloggage will come out of my writerly life, as it usually does.

I have one more post to go before the night is over.

See you shortly 🙂

The Next Chapter

CanWrite! 2014 wrap post

It’s been a month and a bit of me posting on the weekends, but here we are, at last, at the end of the CanWrite! run.

The CAA Literary Awards Gala

This was held the night of Saturday, June 21st.

The night previous, we’d heard several of the nominees read from their works. All were excellent.

Here’s a post about the award winners.

Mariatu Kamara and Susan McClellandThe highlight of the evening was Keynote speaker, Mariatu Kamara, who, along with Susan McClelland, wrote her harrowing story of survival, resilience, and hope.

Of course, I picked up a copy of the book, The Bite of the Mango, and got it signed by the authors.

It was a night of wonderful stories shared and writerly camaraderie.

Other stuff that happened

The CanWrite! conferences are set up with all sorts of interesting activities.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings, there were meditation sessions (which I did not attend), yoga sessions (which I did), and writers’ circles in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction (which I attended last year, but not this), pitch sessions (which I did not participate in), photo sessions (which I participated in last year, but not this), and walking tours (which I opted out of).

In the evenings on Thursday and Friday, there were readings with open mic segments. I read at both, but since the reading time was capped at three minutes, I did not read much 😉

There were workshops on Wednesday, one on fiction, one on poetry, and one on non-fiction. I had initially signed up for the fiction one, but the facilitator had to cancel.

On Wednesday night, there was a wine and cheese reception.

There were also two to four other sessions or workshops held each of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons which I could not attend without benefit of a time turner 🙂

Finally, there was the book fair. You know what I did there, don’t you?

CanWrite! book purchases

It’s an addiction

Thoughts on conferences and conventions

This brings me to preparing to attend a conference.

First, as with everything else that has to do with writing, you have to do your research.

What kind of conference or convention is it? I’ve attended three CanWrite! Conferences, an Algonkian Pitch conference, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, an Ad Astra convention, and will be attending When Words Collide next weekend. All of them have been different.

Some conferences are set up as a kind of writers’ retreat with swaths of time for independent writing, group work (by genre – and here I’m talking poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and plays/screenplays), individual assessment (usually by the group facilitator), and social/networking opportunities (dinners, readings, etc.).

Pitch conferences focus almost exclusively on the pitch sessions, with all other workshops serving to prepare the pitchers and their pitches for their sessions.

Most conferences are set up with one-hour or two-hour sessions throughout the day and evening with short breaks in between to address biological imperatives like bathroom visitations and snack purchases. Each time slot will have multiple options for the attendee and reviewing the program ahead of time is of paramount importance. These conferences will also have pitch sessions (for an extra cost), blue pencil sessions (for an extra cost), photo sessions (extra cost), readings, and other social events. There will often be some kind of buffet, or gala dinner. Keynote speakers will be featured after meals, and there will be book launches/signings, after-hours parties, book fairs, and so forth. These are the writerly smorgasbords/marathons that you will have to navigate carefully to avoid utter exhaustion.

Conventions take the conference model and add even more geekery to the mix with LEGO salons, costume balls/masquerades, anime theatres, arts lounges, vendors, astronomy sessions, readings, and karaoke. The convention sessions are primarily panels, however, and not focused workshops, though workshops may be offered for an extra cost. The big reception or gala/keynote dinner will often also be an extra cost.

Conferences are usually expensive, with a fee in the hundreds of dollars. Conventions are nominally priced, but all the extras are on a pay per participate basis. Accommodation and transportation are always additional costs.

Mel’s tips for travel and accommodation: use hotel and travel rewards programs to lessen these expenses, where possible.

So, do your research, decide what you want to do, and go prepared. Most conferences and conventions will have their programs online months in advance, so you can plan what to attend and budget for the experience.

So, CanWrite! is a wrap, just in time for WWC 🙂

Today’s second post will have to be deferred until next weekend. I’m heading out to my sister-in-law’s shortly for a family BBQ.

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

CanWrite! 2014: How to get published with Halli Villegas, June 21

There was no panel discussion on Saturday and at breakfast, one of the organizers asked me if I’d host Halli’s workshop in the afternoon. I said sure, but I was a bit nervous. I even asked Halli how she wanted her name pronounced, and then promptly messed it up anyway. Sorry about that, Halli.

Halli VillegasFor your information, it’s Vee-yay-ges 🙂

Please note: This is a transcript of my hand-written notes. Halli, or anyone else who may have been present, if I’ve gotten any of the details wrong, please feel free to correct me. I will fix it post-hasty.

To the workshop (allons-y).

 


 

The title of this workshop might be misleading. I’m not going to publish you. We could have called it The Business of Writing. Now there’s a sexy title.

We’re going to talk about what happens when you get published. I can give you my perspective on that, but I’m looking more toward a sharing of expertise. I don’t have a grounded knowledge in self-publishing, or publishing with a micropress, or with a major publisher, but some of you may, so I’m looking forward to bringing out the knowledge in this room.

<We then went around the room and introduced ourselves and shared a little bit about our experience, or lack thereof, with publishing.>

Tightrope Books is a small, or indie press. We’re also called a boutique publisher, because we cater to a specific writer and reader. We tend to the literary, but we’re not publishing so much poetry as we used to. We now have an annual anthology of the year’s best poetry, with guest editors.

You don’t want to compete with yourself.

I worked for five years with Guernica and when it came time to think about starting my own press, my idea was to make it author-centric. That core idea had to evolve, though. It had to become a business.

Always read and follow the submission guidelines. What does the press publish? Does your work fit?

Be professional. Fill out your writing C.V.

Some publishers will have set reading periods. Some have particular niches. ChiZine Publications, for example, focuses on horror and dark fiction.

There’s also the Writers’ Reserve. It’s a fund that provides money to publishers to publish professional writers offered by the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). That reading period is from September to February. Tightrope will receive maybe three hundred submissions under the Writers’ Reserve. We might look more seriously at twenty manuscripts. How many of those we publish varies from year to year.

<Halli discussed the Writers’ Reserve in more detail in the Tightrope Books context. Here’s the link for the Writers’ Reserve if you’d like more information.>

Do your research. Is there a house style guide? If not, the Chicago Manual of Style is the default reference.

Poets generally aren’t agented.

Networking is a great way to make contacts. Conferences like CanWrite! and events like Word on the Street (WotS). WotS used to have a festival atmosphere. Now it’s more commercial. Small press fairs are much the same. All are great places to make connections.

Determination plus persistence equals success.

What happens once your submission is accepted?

You will go through what’s called a substantive edit with an editor. This takes at least two months and is a process of shaping that manuscript.

Next is the line edit. This phase of editing focuses on details and continuity in the manuscript. That leads to the copy edit, which delves into spelling and grammar.

Once your book is accepted, it’s usually about two years to publication.

The fall season is the big publishing season. Spring is a second big season, but you’ll see more beach reading and other, lighter fare.

Typesetting is an art. It’s not as simple as it looks. It’s really about capturing the spirit of the book in a tangible form.

Similarly, your cover design, and therefore your cover designer, is important.

Even the back cover copy is tailored to the book.

Most publishers dictate typesetting, cover, and back cover copy.

Simultaneous submissions are frowned upon.

Response times run anywhere from three months to a year. It depends on the volume of submissions. Responses often can’t be personalized. There’s no time.

The launch is your champagne moment. Make sure you have review copies and copies set aside for contests, major media, etc.

With respect to marketing, print ads aren’t worth it. Budgets have decreased across the board. Grants are disappearing. Sometimes we have to go begging for reviews. There’s no money to send the writer on a book tour. We can’t pay for flights.

Initial sales can be between six weeks and six months. It depends on the profile and popularity of the book. This is the main sales drive.

In a cooperative arrangement, the publisher pays for preferential placement of your books. Even if the publisher pays, however, you should check.

Engage in guerrilla marketing. Go into the bookstore and rearrange the books on the shelf to better display your books.

A bestseller in Canada is about 5,000 copies. A poetry bestseller is between 200 and 300 copies. In the American market, you have to sell at least 35,000 copies to even crack the lists.

I’ve given you in your package a copy of the Tightrope Books contract. It was based on the Writers’ Union of Canada (WUC) contract. Let’s have a look . . .


 

Since I’m not going to share Halli’s contract, I’m going to end here.

I will offer you the link to the Writers’ Union of Canada’s contract information page. If you’re not a member, you may have to pay a nominal fee, but their resources are well worth the cost.

Halli gave us a load of handouts that was very informative. 10 pointers to help you get published; a list of resources for writers; a list of Canadian literary magazines; The Tightrope Books house style guide; and a copy of her contract.

Next weekend: The CAA Literary Awards Gala and wrap post.

CanWrite! 2014: Writing fantasy with Kelley Armstrong, June 20

I took a little break last week because of the blog tour and interview with Mat, but I’m back and ready to proceed with moar CanWrite! 2014 reportage.

I’ve been interested in Kelley for years, ever since I first heard Brian Henry’s story of how he helped hook Kelley up with her agent, effectively launching her career. Kelley’s version of the tale appears later in the workshop, so I won’t spoil it.

Everybody loves a good origin story 🙂

Kelley ArmstrongKelley was a dynamic speaker, hardly ever keeping still long enough for me to snap a decent picture. I won’t torture either you or her with my attempts. Suffice it to say that by the time my phone camera took the shot, she was in mid-speech. So here, instead, is the promo pic she gave the CAA to post on the conference page.

 

Kelley also likes to sit on desks as she holds forth.

Overall, I found her workshop a fascinating one. She frequently asked a question of the class and had us share our expertise, as a good facilitator should (corporate trainer kudos, Kelley!).

Without further ado, here are my notes from the workshop.


 

What is fantasy?

Set in an alternate reality; featuring non-human characters; plausible impossibility (Mel’s note: this was my offering. It’s from Brian Aldiss’s Trillion Year Spree.); mystical elements.

What about sub-genres of fantasy?

Steampunk (think Gail Carriger); urban fantasy (what Kelley writes); epic or high fantasy (Tolkien); contemporary; paranormal romance; speculative fiction; magical realism (Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic).

On writing rules.

There are rules for grammar, spelling, syntax, etc., but with regard to writing a fantasy novel, there are no rules, only guidelines. Following them can definitely improve your chances of being published, but we worry too much about rules.

Don’t worry about the market. Let’s look at an example of a sub-genre that has long been considered flooded.

Current market research reveals that with regard to vampire novels in the last eighteen months there have been:

  • Eighteen deals for new series or standalone titles;
  • Fourteen extensions of current series;
  • Three novels from established novelists in other genres; and
  • One debut.

The “Big Five” are still buying vampire novels. Movies and television series are still being made from these books as well.

Who are the Big Five?

  • Penguin Random House (imprint – DAW)
  • MacMillian
  • Simon & Schuster
  • HarperCollins
  • Hachette (imprints – Little Brown, Hyperion)

All of the Big Five have their imprints. You can publish different books with different imprints.

<Kelley took a few minutes to review her most recently published novels and which imprint and parent publisher each was produced by.>

Bitten was the fourth novel I’d written. The three previous were, a novel about a private investigator (Mel’s note: my notes indicate PI, but it could be something else. My apologies to Kelley if I got this wrong), a traditional fantasy, and a Harlequin Romance, written for their Intrigue line.

Never write to the market. Write what you want to write. If it’s good, it will find an audience.

It takes, on average, about two years for a novel to be published.

Research is important, even in fantasy. Research your setting, history, weapons and armour, etc. Even if your world is a created one, there’s probably something in the real one it was based on.

Here’s how I define a few terms:

Myths have to do with the gods, demigods, avatars, or other similar beings. Folklore relates to fairies and other fantastic races of creatures. Each culture has its own. Legends are real people doing amazing things, generally blown out of proportion after years of retelling.

Can you “break” a myth and retell it in an original way?

Worldbuilding is all about research. You have to have rules and you have to be consistent with them. Or you have to create a convincing “in-world” reason for the rule to be broken.

Part of my research for one of my novels was In the Sleep Room by Anne Collins, a book about sleep deprivation experiments. I also looked into MK Ultra and other military experiments as well. For those who don’t know, MK Ultra was a program that attempted to create an assassin like The Manchurian Candidate.

Urban fantasy usually deals with some form of sub-culture.

How to write your way out of a corner (A.K.A. break your own rules).

First, you have to acknowledge the issue. Then, there are four ways out of your bind:

  • The magical whatnot – a mystical device that will supersede the rules.
  • The lost spell, ritual, or other knowledge – ditto.
  • A new or expanded power – caution: do not use often.
  • Mea culpa – just take responsibility for the “mistake.”

Be careful with these. If the solution to your magical bind sticks around, it can cause trouble for your story in the future (think the transporter as used in Star Trek: The Next Generation). You also don’t want your protagonist becoming too god-like. The easy fix can become a crutch.

Do not give any unnecessary details. If you explain too much, you are bound by the new rules you’ve created. Cover your ass.

How do I know another writer hasn’t already done “this”?

Don’t worry about it. There are no new stories, only new ways of telling them.

What’s the difference between high concept and low concept?

Every agent and editor will have a different definition of this. Sometimes it’s a matter of originality. It’s all in the execution. High concept usually involves global stakes. Low concept is more personal.

<We were then assigned the task of coming up with a concept statement, or logline, for our current works-in-progress. We shared them and critiqued them. Kelley came up with some very inventive ways to rewrite these offerings for greater impact.

The floor was then opened to questions.>

Q: How are you so prolific?

When I got my first deal, my novel was accepted on the condition that I could produce the second novel in the series—as of that time not written—in a very short timeframe. The publisher wanted to release them one after the other.

I was working in the IT field at the time, and though it was a big deal financially, I talked it over with my husband and he said go for it. I also had one young child and was expecting my second. It was a very scary time.

Everyone pitched in to make sure my life didn’t fall apart while I was taking this risk. My sister, who was conveniently in search of a job, became my business manager. When I had enough money, I paid for a housekeeper.

Value your time. Would you rather be doing laundry, or writing your next novel?

Now my kids are helping out too. It’s a family affair.

Q: How did you get your agent?

I’d been writing for a while, in the evenings and on weekends, while I worked. I took a workshop with a man named Brian Henry, and I asked him where I should submit my latest novel (Bitten). He read it for me and called me up one evening to discuss options.

He said, “Helen Heller would love this.” I gulped. Helen Heller? And then Brian continued, “I just can’t tell her what it’s about.”

Later, Brian told me about his conversation with Helen. He’d known her from his work in the publishing industry and he called her up.

“Helen, I have this fabulous new novel that you would just love.”

“What’s it about?”

“Werewolves.”

“Werewolves? If it was anyone but you, Brian . . .”

She read it, however reluctantly, but she loved it and she agreed to sign me as a client.

<The rest, as they say, is history.>

The next chapter: June 2014 update

Hey all!

I must say that June was a blockbuster month for me.

It started with the publication of my science fiction short story “The Broken Places” being published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. Still so excited about that.

I attended June’s @M2the5th Twitter chat with Roz Morris, focusing on her Nail Your Novel series. I’m learning quite a bit from these, and though we cancelled July’s because, Independence Day, we’ll be getting back to our monthly schedule in August.

A comment on last month’s update had me a little concerned about what my readers might be taking away from these posts. It seems May’s update was taken as a warning about social media. If the warning was timely and helpful, great, but it’s not the message I hoped to convey.

I have now finished reading my ARC of K.M. Weiland’s forthcoming Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics. I’ll be posting a review later in the month, so stay tuned for that.

The adjustable desk is working out very well, and I’m now standing for longer between rests. At work, I read a post from a learning and development blogger in which he discussed his experience with his standing desk, which he described as continual fidgeting.

He uses a kitchen stool to take a periodic break from standing and has discovered that he can’t write while standing (!) Thankfully, that hasn’t been my experience.

CanWrite! 2014 was a great time, as usual. I’ve been blogging the panels, sessions, and workshops I’ve attended on a weekly basis.

Another piece of exciting writerly news arrived when I returned home from the conference: another speculative short story, “On the Ferry,” made it into the top ten in the When Words Collide writing contest.

This means I’ll appear in their chapbook anthology, In Places Between, though I’ll have to wait until the conference to find out if I’ve placed. Still. Squee-worthy.

Last month, I had a blogging disruption around the arrival of my desk and spent most of my non-blogging writing time working through Initiate of Stone, all of that work in long hand. Though I completed a lot of work on IoS, I wasn’t able to capture a word count from it.

In last month’s update, I mentioned I would be getting back to countable writing.

June's writing progress

June’s total word count: 18,471!!!!!

13,425 of those words were on my blog, but 5,046 were written in Gerod and the Lions. I set myself a goal of 5k for the month on that project, and I made it. The draft is now just over 10k words and I’ll have a workable draft by the end of the year 😀

I only just started working on Figments (my NaNo project from last year) as I had worked on IoS last month. In all fairness, I have a little more to do with Figments than I had to do on IoS.

First, I’m mapping it. This is something I picked up from reading Donald Maass’s The Breakout Novelist. For each chapter, I list the title, page count, word count, the first and last lines (both hooks, one to draw the reader into the chapter and the other to propel the reader onward), the purpose of the chapter, in story terms, the internal and external conflicts, and finally, what changes for the story, and for the POV character as a result of the chapter.

These are actually from several separate exercises in Maass’s workbook, but I’ve cobbled them together to create my map. These are like index cards and I can rearrange them as needed when I work on the structure of the story. I can see where I might have to divide longer chapters, and fairly easily pick out plot points, pinch points, reversals, etc.

Once I get the mapping done, I’ll fiddle with Figments’s structure and tighten things up, work through a beat sheet ala Roz Morris, and finally reverse engineer the plot with Victoria Mixon’s holographic structure.

June has taught me that I can’t draft one project and then work by hand on another project simultaneously. I’m going to try alternating and see how that goes.

And that is all the Writerly Goodness I have for you tonight.

How are your works-in-progress coming, my friends?

Coming up this month: An interview with author and editor Mat Del Papa on his new anthology Creepy Capreol, I take another shot at the writing process blog hop, the review of Katie’s book, more CanWrite! reportage, and a couple of poems with creation stories.

The Next Chapter

CanWrite! 2014: Publisher Panel, June 20

Christie HarkinCraig PyetteHalli VillegasPanellists: Christie Harkin, Lorimer; Craig Pyette, Random House; Halli Villegas, Tightrope Books.

Moderator: Sue Reynolds

 

 

 

 

 

SR: What would make you shout “Eureka!” if it crossed your desk today?

CP: If we’re talking fiction, I’m not likely to shout right away, but something fresh, or new, would make me pay attention.

HV: The writing has to be excellent. The writer has to be willing to work hard in the editorial process. I like unique settings, LGBT, quirky, diverse books. In our best essays anthology, there was a piece about hospitals that was fascinating.

CH: I have a spreadsheet with tic boxes. I have to check off all the boxes to consider the piece. It has to fit into one of our current series, have an urban setting, preferably in the downtown core, it must be edgy, realistic, modern, and not elitist. If I receive something that meets the criteria, I’d shout “Eureka!”

SR: How many books do you consider from your respective slush piles? How do you prefer to be approached?

CP: If you want to submit to a larger house, get an agent. Most of what we produce comes to us through agencies. With regard to your first question, it would be close to none. I can think of one book we accepted from the slush pile. It was non-fiction about the intersection of gun culture/manufacture and hip hop/urban culture.

HV: Every season, there’s at least one book I find in the slush pile. We’re a small press and periodically closed to submissions. Sometimes we put out a call for an anthology. Our most recent was for mystery stories. We also accept projects though grants, like the OAC’s Writers Reserve. If I like the work, I’ll get in touch.

CH: I’ve been with Lorimer for eight months and before that, I was with Fitzhenry & Whiteside. At Lorimer, there is no slush pile. When the list is specific, the submissions are low. We ask for specifics. Read the submission guidelines.

SR: How do you make a business case for a book? In other words, what happens after “Eureka?” How do you sell a book?

CP: The business case is part of the eureka moment. We have to see that there is a robust audience for the book. We talk a lot about comps.

HV: Comps are the first thing sales asks for. Tightrope has built its own market. Readers say, “I trust their aesthetic.” We have our annual poetry and essay anthologies, we’ve published material on plus-sized women. We’re not necessarily focused on the market in general, but on our audience. We published a book titled, How to get a Girl Pregnant, about a gay couple trying to have a baby. The author needs to be part of the process.

CH: We also want proactive authors. They have to be willing to attend conference, Word on the Street, commit to local promotion. The biggest market for kids books is in schools and libraries. Take a look at the curriculum and write book club-like content for teachers so they can teach the novel in class. There was a book about Jacques Plante, but it was too focused and a lot of the kids it was aimed at wouldn’t be able to relate. This morphed into a book about hockey safety in general and how players have contributed to innovation over the years. The revised book had a more universal appeal.

SR: Publishing is a business. You know what you’re looking for. What about international rights and contracts?

CH: If you don’t have an agent, you don’t have any negotiating power. You probably don’t have the knowledge, or the connections. Think seriously before you sign a contract.

HV: We had a South African author who wanted to publish in both countries. I have a North American and European distributor. I don’t like being limited to Canadian rights only. It’s a smaller market. The first print run is 600-1000 books. We’ve just added ebook rights as well. We don’t do commercial fiction, however.

CH: You want your publisher to contract for US rights. More books will sell in the States than in Canada. Lorimer insists on US rights, in fact. If the author wants to retain them, that would be a deal-breaker.

CP: You don’t want your rights squandered. Ask what the publisher wants to do. Random House has a great foreign rights department, but half of our authors aren’t Canadian. We’re a Canadian-oriented publisher, though. With an agent, the world is their oyster.

HV: Big publishers will have a legal department. I don’t. If things get too complicated, I send the writer to an agent or a lawyer.

CH: Yes, an intellectual property (IP) lawyer.

SR: Let’s open the floor to questions.

Q: What’s your risk tolerance?

CP: Keep in mind that the greater the risk, the higher the potential payoff. Last fall was unusual. We published books on Bobby Orr and Chris Hadfield. Colossal risks, but the payoff was huge, too. Sometimes you blow it, but if you’re passionate, you take the risk.

HV: We don’t have a big budget, so we don’t take big risks in the traditional sense. I like to build the ladder rather than climb it.

CH: At Fitzhenry & Whiteside, I had a lot of latitude. My risks paid off. I’ve been lucky. Lorimer is less of a risk-taker, but we will still weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

Q: What is the process of getting on the bestseller lists?

CP: If we knew that, we’d all be millionaires. That’s putting the cart before the horse. In 2006 Booknet started tracking sales at the cash register for 90% of the retailers in Canada. The Globe & Mail Bestseller list is based on Booknet numbers.

Q: Does politics play a role?

CP: It’s hard sales numbers.

HV: Do you mean, “it’s who you know”?

CP: Maybe there’s the odd favour.

CH: Maybe we can get the book into a reviewer’s hands.

HV: It’s a chicken and egg thing. Some authors will automatically be on the bestsellers lists. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaajte.

Publisher's Panel


 

And that’s all we had time for.

Next week: Writing Fantasy with Kelly Armstrong!

Sundog snippet: Another piece of the office puzzle falls into place

Since it’s not the end of the month yet, I’m not going to put out The Next Chapter until next weekend. That way, if anything else happens in the next day or so, I can capture it for you 😉

Also, I’m only going to dole out the CanWrite! sessions once a weekend to draw out the suspense learning. There’s one more panel, two sessions, and the wrap post to go. Why so few? I’ll tell you all about it in the wrap post, which will have some tips for preparing to go to conferences. Stay tuned!

So this is just a quick post to show you that Phil finally installed the new ceiling fan in my office (yay!). Actually, the ceiling fan was purchased a few years ago, when we renovated our bedroom. It’s been sitting around, languishing in its box since then.

You don’t want to know how long it’s been since I renovated my office . . .

I still have to refinish my office door, but that has to wait until I have some dedicated time.

CeilingFanLove

Isn’t she sweet?

It’s much better than the old one (as the Ikea commercial says) which is about to be chucked to the curb. The old one still worked, but the motor had a nasty hum that made me doubt I could safely use it for long periods of time. It’s free to a good home, and I’m sure it will disappear long before garbage day. We have a lot of wise and environmentally conscious scavengers in the area.

And I’ve really needed it this weekend. It’s the first really hot weekend of the year (in the 30 degree Celsius range, plus humidex) and we don’t have air conditioning. It’s made the house bearable.

The gazebo in the back yard is still in a state of chaos and now has wood (from my mom’s deck reno) piled up for storage.

This weekend, Phil and I also went out and priced landscaping stone, crusher dust, gravel, and recycled rubber patio tiles. Over the course of the summer, Phil is going to construct a retaining wall around the patio, filling in the gaps about the concrete footings he poured (and re-poured) last year, and resurface the patio with the rubber tiles.

Then, he’s going to make a raised garden for me in the back yard with the stone, and create a stone (or possibly rubber tile) path between our two sets of entry steps. It’s a lot of work and a fair amount of cash, but if he works away at it in dribs and drabs, maybe he won’t exhaust either himself, or our bank account.

That’s all for today.

See you again on Tipsday!

BTW, like my new bit of Canva art?

Sundog snippet

CanWrite! 2014: How to be your own editor with Farzana Doctor June 19

Farzana DoctorThat’s Dr. Farzana Doctor 😉

Learning to edit your work is learning to know when to let go. Maybe that’s what this workshop should be called: Let it go.

This is what I do. You don’t have to do what I do. Do what works for you in your process, but I hope you’ll find some interesting tips and techniques you can incorporate into your process.

First, a couple of definitions:

  • Prose editing is fine tuning: Spelling, grammar, syntax, usage.
  • Revision is substantive, structural, plot-related.

To start the editing process, you must have a completed piece of writing.

What was your intention in writing the piece? That core intention will guide you in the editing process.

Plan the process

Prose editing checklist:

  • Overused or repetitive words. First identify them. Everyone has her or his words. Then, use find and replace to address them.
  • Useless words (Mel’s note: also called zero words, because you can remove them from the sentence without changing the meaning of it) such as, just, only, that, actually, etc.. If you’re not sure what useless words are, Google it.
  • Grammar tics. Again every writer has a weakness. (Mel’s note: mine is commas. I either use too many or too few.)
  • Passive language. Examples: The biscuit was eaten by the dog (the dog ate the biscuit). She was jumping up and down (she jumped up and down).
  • Telling versus showing. Telling has its place, but avoid it where possible. Check your use of adverbs, adjectives, and clichés. These are often signs that you are telling, rather than showing.
  • Dialogue. Tags – do you need them, or would an action beat be better? Do all of your characters sound the same? Said is just fine. Read it out loud to see if it “sounds” right.
  • I start with editing first, because I find it easier. Some writers may not want to do this because it may mean too many wasted words when the revision stage is reached. Editing first works for me.

Revision checklist:

  • Where does the story begin? Is it too early, too late, is there enough action, conflict?
  • The protagonist. What does he want? What prevents him from getting it?
  • Other characters. If you can take her out of the story and not alter it, she should go. Every character should serve the story. Every character should be real, have a background, desires and frustrations of her own.
  • Keep track of plot and subplots. Structure.
  • Description. Is there too much or not enough?
  • Flashbacks. Do they stall the story?
  • Is the ending satisfying? Is it a resting place?

How to do it:

  • Focus. No distractions. Space. Set time, page number, or word count goals.
  • Separate new writing from editing and revision. Could be different times of the day, or different days.
  • Revision iteratively. Editing as you’re going. Must always make progress, however. S.J. Rozan’s method of Iterative Revision – Bookbaby. Start with previous day’s work, and then move on. It’s like a progressive spiral.
  • Change perspective. Step away. Change your font. Read aloud. Print it out. Draw maps. Pretend you are a reader.
  • Create a visual outline. Literally cut and paste your scenes and chapters.
  • Write a synopsis or jacket copy. Write a logline or tagline. Write a poem. Find your theme.

Asking for feedback

  • Who will you ask?
  • When is the best time to obtain a critique?
  • Be specific about what you want/need.
  • Stay general. When did you stall, get bored, get lost?
  • Receive your critiques without resistance. Set it aside. Decide what rings true. Ask for clarification (do not defend).

The rest of the workshop was spent reading and responding to the participants’ works-in-progress.


 

I must admit, I haven’t thought of purposefully editing first. I have edited too early before, and regretted spending all that time fixing scenes and even chapters that I would eventually delete. For me, I would think that revising first makes more sense.

Similarly, iterative revision doesn’t work for me. I get caught in an endless loop of going further and further back. It doesn’t prime the pump for me, it engages my inner editor too early in the writing process and stalls me.

Overall, I found Farzana’s workshop informative and practical.

I hope that you, too, will find something useful that you can use in your daily practice.

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.

Sundog snippets: Something I learned about myself as a creative person this week

This week has not been a very productive one for writerly goodness. I have been so tired. I’ve attempted to write despite that, but I haven’t managed to get into what they call “flow.”

I think I’ve landed on the reason. At work, I’m developing a new course on the subject of constructive written feedback. It may be instructional design, but it’s still writing, and it still requires creativity. That’s why I think I’m tapped out when I get home. I’ve been writing all day. The muse needs a break. The well is dry.

So I’m doing something a little different this afternoon. I’m heading off to a friend’s to workshop a play she’s working on. It’s still creative, but it’s different. While I may be reading and getting into character, it’s not drawing upon my writerly energies in the same way.

I’m thinking that this will be the perfect perk-up for the weary muse.

On that topic, while I’ve mentioned in recent posts what my goals are for the year and the various projects I’m working on, I haven’t written a word about conferences or workshops.

Conferences, or conventions, are two ways to fill up that well, energize that muse and revitalize your love of your art and craft.

So.

First up, I’m trying something a little different this year. I’m attending a Virtual conference: WANAcon next weekend. I kind of like the idea of sitting in my PJ’s and interacting on line. It’ll definitely be different.

In March, Brian Henry, the Quick Brown Fox himself, will be returning to Sudbury for another workshop.

In April, I’ll be heading down to Toronto for Ad Astra. It’s more of a convention rather than a conference, and I wanted to see what, if any, difference there may be. And no, before you ask, I will not be participating in cosplay while there. I’ll certainly enjoy observing it, though 😉

In June, I’ll be heading to CanWrite! In Orillia again.

CanWrite! 2014

Finally, in August, I’m definitely hitting When Words Collide.

It’s a pretty full line-up, but my experiences of last year have proven that the expense is worth it. Plus, it gives me lots of blog fodder!

What conferences are you heading off to this year? Any workshops of interest? Do these events feed your muse and fill your well?

Until next week, my friends, TTFN!