The next chapter: March 2016 update

In my 2015 year-end update, I said that 2016 would be the year of revision. To this point, I’d only ever revised the one novel, Initiate of Stone. I revised IoS eight times and I recently got a few ideas on how to improve it further as a result of my first run through of Apprentice of Wind.

In the first few days of March, I finished that first review of AoW. I’m going to return to it again, but this time, as I mentioned last month, I’m going to apply what I hope to be improvements to IoS and then move on to AoW.

My idea is to reinforce my voice over the two novels, which is quite different to the other novels I’ve drafted so far. Most of those are in a modern setting. Urban fantasy of various stripes. Though I’ve worked with IoS for so long, when it came to reviewing AoW, because I’d drafted the five other novels in between, I found I’d lost touch with the voice of the series and its characters.

We’ll see how that turns out, later in the year (I hope).

YTDProgress

Year Goals and Totals page

The current draft of AoW stands at 119,590 words. So 120K, which is reasonable for an epic fantasy.

I then moved onto Figments, my YA urban fantasy. It’s considerably shorter, nineteen chapters, and 53,536 words. I know I’ll have to punch that up a bit, but I have a number of ideas to make that happen.

Both of these novels were drafted, let to sit, printed out, read through, mapped, let to sit again, read through again, and then reviewed. I just changed some of the major things, POV, character deletion, consistency over the novels (in the case of AoW), and notes for future revision.

I don’t think I’ll need as many drafts of either AoW or Figments as I needed with IoS to finish them to my satisfaction.

I’m trying something different with Marushka, which I moved on to in the last few days of March.

My revision plan so far has been to review a chapter a day, which was challenging for AoW and Figments, because a number of the chapters of both were several thousand words long. I often found myself up until midnight on a weekday trying to get my work finished before I went to bed.

Marushka was the first novel I drafted using Scrivener and it really changed the way I drafted. The chapters are comparatively tiny (1000 to 1500 words so far) but there are a lot more of them (54).

I didn’t print Marushka out. I didn’t read it through or map it. As I review each chapter, I’m reading it through for the first time and mapping it as I go.

We’ll see if this is more or less productive than printing the draft out, and reading and mapping it out prior to my first run through.

I’m approaching this year of revision as an opportunity to experiment. My process is in continual evolution and, as I learn, from both success and failure, I’m seeing improvement in my process and in my writing overall.

I’m not looking for short cuts as much as efficiencies. I’m not doing any less work, I’m just doing it differently.

Again, we’ll see how it goes.

So here’s how the month breaks down.

MarchProgress

MarchProgress1

Want your own Writing and Revision Tracker? Visit http://jamieraintree.com/writing-revision-tracker

  • AoW – 7,334 words revised
  • Figments – 53,536 words revised
  • Marushka – 4,737 words revised
  • Blog – 8,436 words written.

I achieved 141% of my writing goal and 177% of my revision goal.

At this rate, I’ll finish the first run through on Marushka part way through May and move onto Reality Bomb and finally, Gerod and the Lions. Once I’ve got everything reviewed once, I’m going to take a break (which I tend to need in the summer months) and work on my outline for Mistress of Waves, the third book in my Ascension series and NaNo 2016 project 🙂

Then I’ll get back to deeper revisions until November arrives. I may not be able to conquer more than IoS/AoW. Maybe I make it as far as Figments.

Querying continues. I’ve not devoted much time to short fiction recently, though.

As far as conferences and conventions, I’m hitting Ad Astra (April 29-May 1), The Canadian Writers’ Summit (June 15-19, though I’ll only be attending June 17-19), and WorldCon, AKA MidAmericon II (August 17-21). I have paid my fees and reserved accommodation, but it’s all pending leave approval.

I’m holding my breath until I know it’s approved. Once it is, I’ll be able to book my flight to Kansas City.

My employer asks us to apply for leave every six months. We apply in March for the first half of the fiscal year, April to September, and in September for October through March. Approval is subject to seniority and operational demands (peak seasons).

I should know whether this first round of leave requests has been approved by the end of April.

My plans for fall and winter will have to wait on the approval of the second round of leave in October.

I’ll save those potential plans for a later update.

For the remainder of this month, I’ll be offering some Series discoveries posts (fall season, part two, mid-season follies, and anime) and at least one book review (Jane Ann McLachlan’s second Kia novel, The Salarian Desert Game).

As of Ad Astra, the convention reportage will resume.

So there’s lots of Writerly Goodness to look forward to, and of course, Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday curations will continue through the week.

In the meantime, break a bunch of pencils, you wonderful, creative people.

The Next Chapter

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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

Caturday Quickie: Calgary, I am in you

I’ve been waiting to say that for a long time. I’m such a nerd.

To be brief:

Thursday afternoon, Phil and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I may have to post a Mel’s Movie Madness about it. For the future. I enjoyed it thoroughly, however.

Yesterday (Friday), I got up at the ungodly hour of 4 am so I could get out to the airport by 5-ish and catch my 5:55 am flight.

All went well, caught my connection, watched the second Hunger Games en route, and arrived at 10:18 am, on the dot, in Calgary.

My friend, Sharon, offered to pick me up and we went out to lunch before I checked in at the Carriage House Inn and started my marathon of sessions.

I attended 5 of those yesterday, plus the keynote speakers in the evening. I also met, in person, several people I’d only known to this point virtually: Angela Ackerman, Diane Walton, Tim Reynolds, and I reconnected with some fellow writers and publishers: Mark Leslie, Ron Hore, Swati Chavda, and Avery Olive.

I had dinner and lovely conversation with Nina Munteanu, and met a few other writers and editors hanging around outside the hotel. I also saw the wonderful Jack Whyte again, and met Brandon Sanderson in the flesh. Brandon was my fangirl moment of When Words Collide so far.

I’ll be in sessions from 10 am to 6 pm today, and then there is the mass autograph session this evening.

It has been a jam-packed conference so far, but I’m having a blast. Prepare for much bloggage coming out of this 🙂

Also got to see the 2014 In Places Between anthology chapbook. The readings and judging take place tomorrow morning. Will let you know (of course) how “On the Ferry” fares.

I think this may be my only post this weekend, just because WWC is proving to be a very fast-paced event.

In the meantime, I shall wish much you all much Writerly Goodness.

Caturday Quickies

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.>

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.

My first virtual conference #WANAcon Feb 2014

This has been a week of firsts here at Writerly Goodness.

Yesterday, I posted about my first twitterview experience. Today it’s #WANAcon.

WANAcon

Over the last couple of years, I have attended several excellent online courses through WANA International, Kristen Lamb’s online writer’s university. Each course has been reasonable on the plastic, and I’ve invariably received great value for the money.

So, I thought, for the price of three or four individual courses, I could have the benefit of twelve, plus (!) It was a no-brainer, really.

Also, if I want, I have access to all the alternate sessions that I didn’t attend. Everything’s recorded, and I can view any of them any time I want (for a defined period of time).

I’m not going to give away any of the content, except to say that I recommend #WANAcon to anyone who wants an inexpensive alternative to a traditional conference. No travel, no hotel, no days-on-end of eating out, no time away from family or work. It really is a fabulous deal.

There were even pitch sessions, though I didn’t opt into them.

So here’s a quick rundown of the sessions I attended:

  1. Branding for authors – Kristen Lamb
  2. Self-editing for fiction writers – Marcy Kennedy
  3. OneNote: The solution to organizing your work – Jenny Hansen
  4. Writing effective inner dialogue – Lisa Hall-Wilson
  5. World-building 101 – Kristen Lamb
  6. An introvert’s guide to Twitter – Jami Gold
  7. Backstory: How your hero’s past shapes his future – Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
  8. Creating compelling, unforgettable characters – Shirley Jump
  9. Build an author website without getting burned – Laird Sapir
  10. 7 steps to a stronger love story – Gabriela Pereira
  11. Rock your revisions – Gabriela Pereira and Julie Duffy
  12. Blogging for authors – Kristen Lamb

As you can see, there was a smorgasbord of Writerly Goodness to take in. Added bonus: You can do it all in your PJs 🙂

I’m feeling pleasantly buzzed.

What courses have you taken recently that were good value for the money? Tried anything new that turned out even better than your expectations?

Do share.

It’s a wrap!

There is so much more to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) than I wrote about.

Yes, there were a tonne (that’s metric, eh?) of sessions that I couldn’t get to, everything from self-publishing, to social media and platform maintenance, from screenwriting to non-fiction sessions, and marketing sessions.

And yes, I may have mentioned things like the blue pencil and pitch sessions with the agents. Those keen on these could sign up for multiple sessions.

There was a professional photographer there to take head shots as well.

Where would I fit it all in?

But I didn’t mention the Master classes that preceded the conference. They required an extra fee, but I hear they were well worth it.

I didn’t mention Michael Slade’s Theatre of the Macabre, in which Anne Perry, Jack Whyte, Diana Gabaldon, and KC Dyer did a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart,” replete with music and sound effects.

I didn’t mention the book fair, author signing, or writing group get-together.

I didn’t mention the excellent food served at the lunches and dinners.

I didn’t mention the annual tradition of Jack Whyte singing the Hippopotamus Song.

Really, this is a conference you need to put on your writer’s bucket list.

We’re all time travellers

Since British Columbia is three hours behind the Eastern Time zone, I thought I would experience jet lag. I did, but not until I returned.

While I was in Surrey, I typically stayed up late to check on social media and do a bit of transcription of the notes I’d taken during the day. Although I stayed up until about 11 pm (2 am, my time) I woke up every morning around 5 am. Again, I used the time to prepare for the day and get in a little transcription.

When I flew back, I did so by the “red-eye” flight. It departed Vancouver at 10:30 pm. I tried to sleep on the way back, but I should have spent some money on one of those neck cushions. I woke up every hour or so and attempted to ease the pain in my neck and find a more comfortable position to sleep in.

When I finally got home, after an early morning layover in Toronto, the connector to Sudbury, and a hectic shuttle ride back to town, it was about 10:30 in the morning.

Needless to say, I spent a good portion of that day in bed 😉

I thought about time zones and jet lag again the following weekend when Daylight Saving Time ended. I’ve described the time change as self-imposed jet-lag, and I’ve never agreed with the continued practice. While it’s not so bad in the fall, it’s murder in the spring when we lose an hour again.

Really, though we can’t leap forward or back, we’re all time travellers. We all travel through time as we wake, work, eat, and sleep our way through life.

It was a philosophical moment 😛

Thanks for following my reportage of the conference, and I will be getting back to my regularly scheduled ramblings forthwith.

Bruce Hale’s keynote Oct 27, 2013

This is my last summary of the sessions and keynotes I attended at SiWC this year.  I’ll have one more post summing up odds and ends because there was so much going on … But that’s for next week.

Bruce Hale gave the final keynote of the conference.

Here are my notes on what he said:

Investment in ourselves is how we grow. It’s why we’re all here and I congratulate all of you on making that decision.

We can’t do everything ourselves, though. Team work makes the dream work.

Life has a habit of getting in the way.

Find an accountability buddy, right now, I’ll wait.  Establish goals together and your accountability buddy will hold you to them. (Mellie’s note: I did do this, but I have to apologize to Zoe for not following through yet. My first goal, post SiWC, was to participate in NaNoWriMo, and I have done that, but I’ve been so focused, I haven’t had much time to spare for anything else!)

I have a dog, Riley. Half Labrador Retriever, and half pit bull. She’ll tear your arm off and play fetch with it 😉

As a writer, you have to face the Iron Tiger. That’s resistance.  Face resistance with persistence.

It’s how you deal with rejections.  There are several levels of rejections:

  • Untouched by human hands – the automated form rejection.
  • Barely touched by human hands – they refer to the work.
  • A hand written note at the bottom of a barely touched by human hands rejection.
  • The personalized rejection – Dear Mr. Hale.
  • The open door invitation – Dear Bruce, we’re not interested in this one, but could you send something else?

Bruce ended his keynote with the following quote from Marianne Williamson:

Finally, he played Des’ree’s “You gotta be” and encouraged us all to sing along.  It was a great feel-good ending to the conference.