Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Cutting contracts and shaking hands

The business basics of writing

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

Cutting Contracts Panel

Q: Do I need an agent?

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

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

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

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

MP: Short fiction is excluded in publishing contracts.

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

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

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

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

GZM: My agent can play the bad cop.

MP: There’s an imbalance of power.

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

GZM: I recommend the Guide to Literary Agents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LB: No one knows what the magic button is.

And that was time.

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

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Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Canadian young adult literature

Panellists: Amanda Sun, E.K. Johnston, Monica Pacheco, Jane Ann McLachlan

Canadian YA panel

MP: What makes a YA novel Canadian?

JAM: Weather. We have a unique obsession with seasons, weather, and winter.

MP: Setting. American cities are the default for most YA authors.

EKJ: The Story of Owen is set in my home town. When I go to read at local schools, the kids are always excited: “Hey! That’s my street!”

MP: There’s a trend for setting becoming a character in its own right.

AS: Can lit is starting to embrace the speculative.

EKJ: We have horror to thank for that.

MP: For me, it always comes down to the writing and the voice.

JAM: There’s a difference in dystopian, too. Americans don’t trust their government as much as we do. It’s a central theme. Canadians are different. Our dystopias are often ecological disasters.

EKJ: One review of The Story of Owen said, “This is a poorly written dystopia.” It’s not a dystopia!

JAM: Even people on the right are left-leaning in Canada. How do we sell to American readers?

EKJ: I actively don’t care. Readers are looking for interesting and different books.

AS: My editor is American. He’s the gatekeeper. What’s March Break? What’s icing sugar (it’s powdered sugar in the States)? You wrote “in hospital.” Did you mean in THE hospital? Are you done work, or done working?

EKJ: I reclaimed Canadian spelling in subsequent printings of my book. It was a victory.

AS: I write in Canadian English.

JAM: I edit to American spelling but I’m afraid we’re going to lose Canadian spelling if all our young people are reading American English. I feel like I’m contributing to the delinquency of our youth.

Q: What’s your opinion of the renaming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone in the States?

[There was a brief discussion of how Scholastic made the decision to rename the book in America and how this translated into the movies. Was it a “dumbing down”? No, just a matter of wording, like icing sugar vs. powdered sugar.]

MP: Both authors and editors expect advocacy. There’s more acceptance of diversity now.

EKJ: Maureen Johnston is an American author, but she wrote an amazing book that is British in every way: setting, weather, politics, and language.

JAM: That’s another thing that distinguishes Canadian YA: our sense of humour and multiculturalism. Canada is a mosaic and America is a melting pot.

EKJ: I have friends in the leadership of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It’s a slow burn.

AS: We don’t understand how divisive race is in America (or other countries).

Q: What about the “white washing” of diverse characters (the character is one of colour, but the cover image shows a white character)?

EKJ: It happened to Beth Revis. In Across the Universe, the male love interest is black. The actor in the movie is white.

AS: I wanted my novel’s Asian love interest on the cover and was nervous, but the publisher agreed. Julie Kagawa’s Clockwork Prince features an Asian on the cover. The cover for Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is culturally appropriate.

EKJ: YS Lee’s Agency series is another example.

MP: I have noticed some of this, but I’ve seen more graphic covers that don’t feature a person at all. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, though.

JAM: What about the humour aspect? Canadian humour is self-deprecating.

And that was time.

Next week: We’ll be cutting contracts 🙂

On deck (today): The next chapter June update and a Caturday quickie pupdate.

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Put the pen down and back away slowly

Editing your work

Quick note: My apologies. Last week I mentioned that I would be getting uncanny, but I realized (only today when I opened my notebook) that the panel on the new weird, speculative fiction, and uncanny literature was one that I sat back and enjoyed rather than taking copious notes. I guess I needed a bit of a break (!)

In any case, I did take notes on the self-editing panel. And here they are 🙂

Panellists: Julie Czerneda, Anne Bishop, Monica Pacheco, Kelley Armstrong

Self-editing panel

AB: I used to write a scene because I wanted to follow the path for the story. Now, if I know a scene will likely be cut, I can run through it in my mind without writing it.

MP: Do you edit as you write?

KA: If I edit as I go, I’ll never finish. My first drafts are quick and dirty. The faster, the better.

JC: I just finished two fantasies, two literally, sweeping epics. Now I’m writing science fiction, so I find it easier to write to a word count goal. Still, I like to write quick and dirty, though.

AB: I write my first draft to tell me what the story’s about often. Anything goes at this stage and I use a strange font. It tends to free me up.

MP: Where do you start?

JC: If something is bothering me, I’ll deal with it right away. If it can be left until I edit, I leave myself a signal in the text. I use “OOO” so it’s sure to stand out.

AB: I used to be comfortable making notes outside the document, in a separate notebook. Now I write notes inside the document in different colours.

JC: My computer has defaulted to Canadian English and now I have to make a special pass just for that.

KA: As I write, I can flag what needs work. I use Scrivener.

MP: Are you harder on your work than an editor?

KA: Yes. I’m my own worst critic. Working with a great editor teaches you a lot, though.

JC: How do we know when to stop?

KA: When the publisher rips it away from you. We do the best we can in the time we have.

AB: I learn from the audio book version of my novels. Where do I need dialogue tags and where can I use an action beat or piece of description?

JC: I learn the most from my editor’s comments. Sheila doesn’t give me any praise, just notes of what to work on.

KA: If you’re critiquing, you have to be positive.

MP: You have to be careful not to crush spirits.

JC: You have to recognize the good in your work. It was a triumph when Sheila called me up in the middle of the night just to tell me she’d cried twice while reading my manuscript. Because she’s not big on praise, I knew I’d nailed it.

AB: You don’t want to edit the heart out of your story, either.

Q: What’s your editing process?

AB: I print it out, read through it, and make notes by hand.

KA: I put my first draft aside for at least two months while I work on something else. I print it out and mark everything up with a red pen from page one.

JC: I also print it out and edit my drafts by hand, but I like to edit in a separate place from where I drafted.

Q: What do you do about editorial comments you don’t agree with?

AB: My editors know I’m fragile. Most of the time, I can come around to seeing things their way, but it I can’t, I find I have to express why I think the scene or line is essential to the story. If I can offer a cogent explanation, the editors come around to seeing things my way.

KA: The majority of the editors I’ve worked with are great. I know them and what they want to see. We’ve developed a relationship. Some are dead wrong, though. You have to be willing to defend your work.

________________________________________________________________________

And that was time.

I learned a lot from these writerly women. I hope you did, too 🙂

My Next Chapter update and another Sundog snippet will have to wait on tomorrow. I have a retirement party to get ready for (!) Not mine (I wish), but two lovely ladies from the BEA hive at work. I’m the comic relief O.o

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: After acceptance, the fun begins

Panellists: Suzanne Church, Arlene F. Marks, Kelley Armstrong, Monica Pacheco, Charles de Lint

After acceptance panel

KA: I was reading at the University of Waterloo, and a question came up that really caught me off guard. That was my biggest challenge: getting used to answering scary questions about my stories.

AFM: I started on the editorial side of the business. When it came to working that process with my own book, what surprised me was the number of times I had to read my book. It’s a test. If you don’t get sick of your book after reading it 20 or 30 times, it’s a good sign.

SC: I’m a rule-follower. When I heard back from my first editor, I got to work making all the requested changes. What I had to learn was that editors aren’t infallible. You have to learn to fight for your work, when necessary. When you hear from an editor for the first time, read a comment, and then take a drink of tequila.

AFM: My first published novel was with Harlequin, the publisher for whom I edited. A fellow editor suggested I write my book, but when I submitted it, an editor was assigned who was a frustrated author. I went through four rewrites without a contract. Eventually, I went over the editor’s head, but that was only possible because I had a 12-year working relationship with Harlequin.

KA: My Canadian publisher sent out advanced reader copies (ARCs) and wanted me to write a couple of articles. I did, but what stuck out was my stance that what I had written was not horror. There was a terrific backlash from other writers of horror.

MP: I was working with an author under contract. Three days before the book was due, her computer crashed. We had to come forward, explain what happened, and ask for an extension.

CdL: The original cover for The Riddle of the Wren was a collage. I thought it was crappy. My editor, Terry Windling, advocated for me and ended up doing the cover for free.

SC: The promotional piece is challenging, too. Start three months before the release.

KA: Just realizing that I had to promote my own book was a shock. I don’t have what it takes for event planning and blogging. The most important thing I learned, though, is to thank your readers.

MP: Publicists are not magicians. Promotional materials can be as much work as writing the novel.

CdL: I agree with Kelley. Connect with your readers. Find common ground. Recommend the books of other authors that they would enjoy.

SC: I talk about hockey more than I talk about writing. One of my surprises was that you have to convince the library database to feature your books so that libraries will pick it up.

AFM: Never underestimate the value of friendships. Come up with cool swag ideas for your supporters.

MP: At one party, we handed out LED flashlights.

KA: Chocolates are bad promotional tools. They get eaten. Give out screen cleaning cloths, bags, pens, useful things. Every time someone picks up the pen you gave them, they’ll be reminded.

AFM: Bookmarks. Leave that shit everywhere.

SC: Wine is expensive, but cool. Everybody loves cake.

CdL: Giving stuff to kids is fun. The more creative you can get, the better. I’ve written songs to go with my books. I had an artist draw pictures of the characters, sign them, and leave them for the fans.


And that was time.

Tomorrow: I’ll be transcribing my notes from Jane Ann McLachlan’s workshop.

Next week: Ad Astra gets uncanny . . . and my Next Chapter update 🙂

Ad Astra 2015, day 2: An agent and a publisher walk into a bar . . . who do you approach first?

Yes, day 2 has finally arrived!

First, a reminder of my disclaimer

These posts are composed of my notes. Often, because of the scheduling, I enter sessions after they’re already in progress. I write by hand, so as I’m writing what I believe to be a salient point, I may miss the next one. I do my best to catch as much as I can, but things will be missed. Also, if, in my haste I recorded something incorrectly, please don’t be shy about coming forward and letting me know. I will correct all errors post-hasty once informed of them.


Panellists: Monica Pacheco, Ryan McFadden, Kelley Armstrong, Karen Dales, Mark Leslie

Agent or publisher panel

MP: By the time a book hits the shelves, it’s already 1-2 years old, so to speak. Don’t follow trends. What’s selling now won’t be what’s selling when your novel comes to market.

ML: Is it fair to say that trends are what’s currently selling, plus some kind of twist?

KA: I’ll reiterate: don’t write to trends. There’s no point.

KD: If you focus on what’s hot rather than what you’re passionate about, your readers will detect it. Readers can tell when you’re being disingenuous.

ML: I was at a conference and I pitched my idea for a book without having written it. Dundurn said yes, so I started writing in April. The book was published in October, so that will give you some idea how quickly things can come together.

RM: If I was at the “bar,” I think I’d hit on the other writers. Craft is more important than your ability to sell yourself. Writers will introduce you to their people. Those people can be some very valuable contacts.

KD: I’m working as a freelance editor right now and the way I came by the job was through pitching a publisher. I was talking to an author and asking where I should send my work in progress. The author suggested her publisher. I pitched, and not only was I able to get a contract for my WIP, but I also became an editor for them.

ML: Sometimes I might consider a market inappropriate for me, or a piece inappropriate for the project I’m working on, but for someone else, it may be a perfect fit. I remember working as an editor and having to turn down a great story because it wasn’t suited to the anthology. I recommended that the author submit his story to Writers of the Future. He did, and he won.

MP: We read everything in our slush pile. We’re looking for that gem, and we won’t overlook any submissions.

RM: Networking is everything.

KD: If you’re working with a freelance editor, research them. Develop a relationship. If you’re working with an editor who works with a traditional publisher, it’s different. The money the publisher is willing to invest can change the dynamic.

KA: When you work with an editor for one of the big five houses or their imprints, it’s more important to be aware of what the publisher’s guidelines and preferences are. The individual editor may be gone by the time your book is printed.

ML: What are the differences between Canadian, UK, and US markets?

KD: Canadian and UK publishers are more consistent. In the US, I’m all over the place.

ML: In one instance, the managing editor gave me notes before I even started writing.

KD: The editor has to be an advocate for the author.

KA: Networking, as mentioned, is great, but don’t get sneaky about it. Don’t invite me out to coffee just to get a recommendation, or to ask me to read your manuscript.

KD: Don’t go fishing. Go make friends.

ML: Look at the long game.

MP: So much of the industry is based on relationships.

KA: Don’t do anything electronically that you wouldn’t do in person. Having said that, if someone asks you what you’re working on, be honest. Talk about it positively.

MP: The bottom line is to be professional. Don’t self-denigrate. No scented paper or bribes, please.

Q: Do different publishing houses have different quirks?

ML: Dundurn loves Canadian authors. In fact, you have to be Canadian to be published by Dundurn.

KD: Dark Dragon is interested in good storytelling. They like unique stories and voices.

KA: HarperCollins does amazing covers for their young adult books. Penguin random House is all around great. There was a poll in The Bookseller. Are authors happy with their publishers? The overwhelming response was that they wanted more communication from their publishers. 37% said that if they got an equivalent—not better—offer from another publisher, they’d switch. Subterranean Press is good.

RM: Smaller publishers are better at communicating with their authors. ChiZine, Dragon Moon, and Dark Dragon are like that.

MP: Tor is a dream to work with. Skyhorse Publishing is a good mid-sized, non-fiction publisher. Talos Press is interested in SFF. Simon & Schuster Canada has been very good to Andrew Pyper. They’ve sent him on a national reading tour.


And that was that.

Next week: What happens after acceptance?