The CanWrite2019 Conference Plenary was given by National Chair, Margaret Hume on Friday, May 18 with a welcome to all authors, agents, editors and publishers and other participants.
The first panel was moderated by J.J. Lee who was previously nominated for a Governor General’s Award for his memoir, The Measure of a Man. The panelists included Vici Johnstone of Caitlin Press, Vancouver, small press publishes mainly women writers, mainly B.C. stories. Karen Green of Anvil Press, Vancouver, small press which takes direct submissions, 12 books per year. and Douglas Richmond, Senior Editor of House of Anansi Press, Toronto a medium to large publisher, up to 50 books per year. They provided the group with an update on the publishing today and what a new and more experienced author can expect to face when attempting to get published. All of them stressed the need to use social media since this is where people look for books.
Donald Maass who head a large U.S. Literary Agency which represents about 150 agents. He has published 6 books on writing techniques and gave a workshop on Writing a Breakout Novel. He stated all protagonists in fiction are one of three types: everyday man or woman, genuine hero or heroine, dark protagonist who is suffering, tortured or needs to change. Their character traits may include, authentic, artistic, someone who shares her talents. Alternatively a dark protagonist is usually a perfectionist, deeply depressed or heavy, striving for more prestige. Writers were encouraged to use their own characters and to develop scenarios using the above types and characteristics to build your own story.
The second workshop was on Saturday given by a published author with Caitlin Hicks, Eileen Cook, One Lie Too Many, on Character Building. Her background is she works as a counselor with people who have catastrophic injuries. Her theme for building characters is that people are making the best decisions for them at that moment in time. This can be applied to both your heroes and your villains. You can also use self-help books for developing different types of characters.
The Saturday afternoon agents panel included, Donald Maass who talked about the acquisition process which is the agent’s major job on the writer’s behalf. They seek out appropriate publishers for your book and manage the options process if there are more than one bid. Eileen Cook talked about the author needing to maintain the ownership over their book and not expect the agent to manage their career for them. What agents want to know is who is your main character, what do they want and what gets in their way or blocks them from getting it. Robert Mackwood is a non-fiction agent and asks for a short query to describe what the book will look like once the author completes it. Many non-fiction writers go directly to the publisher rather than through an agent but will use an agent for their second book to increase their exposure. Both self-publishing and hybrid publishing are very popular for non-fiction books.
Donald Maass gave a second workshop this time on 21st Century Fiction where stated that the market is seeing a convergence of literary and commercial fiction. The two cultures are now interwoven partly due to marketing. People are willing to pay more for books and trade publications ($20 to $25 U.S.) are the most popular sellers. Readers are seeking richer, deeper stories which are more character driven. Science Fiction sells well especially if written by technology specialists. These stories are more storyteller and plot driven. Fantasy is also well accepted. Plot driven is not like a template. It’s more a series of events over a period of time.
On Sunday, May 19, the National Executive hosted a brainstorming session with all participants invited to attend. Some of the suggestions for the 100th anniversary celebration in 2020 included the need to seek out grants specific to these type of anniversary events. Others suggested the need to provide an educational opportunity for members, have a one-day retreat as a networking event, host an anthology with stories from past famous members. Proposed location will be Toronto area.