Highlights from CanWrite 2017 Conference

Highlights from CanWrite2017 Conference
Our Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association had great participation with 8 of our writers at the CanWrite2017 conference at Humber College in Toronto June 22 to 25, 2017. Some of the highlights and learning experiences for me were as noted:
Shared Learning at Agents Panel:
Three literary agents responded to questions about how best for writers to work with agents. Overall some of the comments were:
-the relationship between agent and author is like a marriage
-sometimes its like a friendship other times its more professional in nature
-of course, the personal rapport is important but the writing must be great
-in the case of editing by agents, some do more in this area than others
-all agents want polished work and do the final shaping before sending out to publishers
-many new agents will do more editing to make sure publishers are satisfied as they want repeat business
Megan Beadle of The Beatle Literary Agency:
-loves any type of beautiful writing
-for fiction, she loves children’s picture books
-will consider all types of good poetry
-she markets work she represents to individual small presses and large presses
Carolyn Forde of Westwood Creative Artists (WCA)
-she travels regularly to the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair on behalf of WCA
-she works closely with co-agents around the world
-she also travels to New York regularly and maintains relationships with editors located there
-for fiction, she likes upmarket and commercial fiction
-this genre includes women’s fiction
-she likes many types of thrillers
-she likes non-fiction including memoirs
Martha Webb of The McDermid Agency
-her focus is on literary fiction and narrative non-fiction including investigative journalism and memoir
-she’s also interested in other types of non-fiction
-the work must be original and demonstrate good writing
-she’s moving away from series novels
How to Develop Query letters:
Below is a summary of the responses from all three agents on this question.
-its essential that the writer knows the requirements of your target agents (see their website)
-start by telling them how you know this agent, where did you hear about her
-the writer’s research comes out in the letter and makes the agent take it seriously
-great if writer has a strong profile in literary magazines or previous books published
-as a writer, provide me with an opening as though you were talking to me (informal style)
-be personal and tell me about your book and what your purpose is for writing it
-why are you the right person to tell this particular story
-do you have a following through social media or otherwise
-do you network with other writers (writers groups, etc.)
Some of the pitfalls for you to avoid in first 10 pages are:
-start with the action as early as possible (i.e. first page)
-you don’t need warm up pages–just jump in with your character
-don’t cover all characters in the story immediately; bring some in later
-all characters should have some secrets from each other
-introduce some important conflicts and continue this to increase tension
-comparable titles must be accurate in tone and not just the most popular authors
-if possible, use as a comparison book, one the agent has promoted to show you relate to their style
-comparison title should be recent and realistic and could be TV or film
Why get an agent:
-because you need an authority to negotiate on your behalf
-agents have relationships with a large variety of publishers and can find the right one for you
-advances are still available for good authors although not as large as they once were
-your total book sales must equal your advance and hopefully more than the advance from the publisher’s perspective
-go to publishers marketplace for agents recent sales to assess their record
-follow agents on twitter under their hashtag
-you can characterize the genre of your own book by research at bookstore or library and check out sub-categories as well
-who’s your primary audience for this particular book
-there is a difference between upmarket and commercial fiction
-upmarket is book club fiction; example is Big Little Lies (main driver is the story)
-commercial might be romance or mystery or science fiction
-query about 50 agents and if no positive responses, then reassess both your query and/or style of novel
Workshops by Published Writers:
Dennis Bock, Canadian novelist and short story writer:
-Canadian author finalist for 2013 Giller prize for Going Home Again, and City of Toronto book award, as well as others
-writers need to know the process of failure is part of a writers life
-no special formula will work as a writer; your writing must be authentic
-your ideas will change over time as well as your story style
-your ideal reader should be intelligent and impatient
-you want your readers to have sympathy with your main character (personal experience helps here)
-how to develop a real character–give reader sensory details, dialogue, what are they like, how do they react to others, inner conflicts, multidimensional
-the main message given to writers is to show don’t tell, but you need both (inner conflicts are needed so reader can relate)
-your main character’s wants and needs are important (especially if she is the narrator)
-I ask myself what my character wants and how is she feeling then I jump in
-what’s her competition with others in the story and theirs with other characters
-short stories are a snap shot with less time to get to the point and therefore every word counts
-major change should be happening to your main character
-in my writing of short stories, I use very few characters and one POV
-difference between short stories and novels is that novels have different settings, multiple characters, larger story-line, one major conflict with many smaller ones
-in novels you have more time to develop the conflicts and crisis which is how you reveal your character’s feelings and flaws
-you need to distinguish your character’s profile before and after the crisis
-in novels, writers’ plots are not actual representation of their life but the life they have invented
-always ask yourself, where is the story taking place and who is your main character
-your role as writer is to educate and entertain your readers
-what does the character like, love or value (pick what’s important to them)
Richard Scrimger – a successful writer of children’s and adult’s literature around the world  
-good stories are important to writers as well as their audience
-you need to know how to build a story (what’s your story structure?)
-there are three basic plots; the lost plot, the journey plot, and the stranger plot
-the truth inside you makes your voice; be authentic
-fiction is basically lies but most writers start with some truth (what happened and what if it was different?)
– plot comes from the McGuffin (the thing driving the story)
-something must go wrong to kick off the story and the reader must feel the character’s happiness, anger and fear
-remember for your stories that frustration leads to anger
-in your stories, bullies don’t need to succeed and often don’t
-revenge makes good writing; even if it doesn’t always have the desired effect
-conflict isn’t a straight line (character wants something but doesn’t get it, tries again, etc.)
-anger, fear and sadness make the story plus love
-add concrete details but keep these short for more impact
-ask yourself why here, why now, why these people
-outline your story by setting, character(s), interaction(s)
-you are responsible for your characters development including the trouble they get into
-don’t solve the problem right away–if its between two people, make it worse through a third character
-build in tension and make the problem bigger
-side door is the character door (someone new brought in later who has a flaw)
-characters are designed from your life or that of those around you
-have character fall into extreme danger to raise the tension
-tension can be feelings or something the reader knows which the character doesn’t know
-main character may be naive to what’s really going on around them
-truth may be overheard by the narrator and known by the reader but not the character (unreliable narrator)
-pay attention to technique when writing, especially for plots
-to maintain tension, seduce your reader with what’s going to happen next
Shared Learning at Publishers Panel:
Amanda Betts, Editor for Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group at Penguin Random House Canada
-some genres of fiction which are currently popular are upmarket fiction, commercial fiction and psychological suspense
-Random House primarily relies on agents for good manuscripts
-she has edited The Translation of Love by Lynne Kuatsukake and Be Ready for the Lightning by Grace O’Connell.
-for Random House, the interns do the slush pile and sometimes bring work forward to the editor for review
-Random House takes good material to editorial board and then, if approved, on to acquisitions committee
Jim Gifford, Editoral Director for Harper Collins in Toronto
-Jim publishes narrative non-fiction, literary fiction, YA
-he receives most queries from agents who know what he publishes or from published authors as new material
-he maintains smaller lists but with more emphasis on marketing
-examples of work he has published includes that of General Rick Hiller, Dr. Maia Shapiro, Linden MacIntyre and Andrew Westoll
-we also maintain a slush pile of unsolicited queries but rarely use these
-my role is as acquisitions editor so at Harper, if excited about the query letter, I will talk to our editorial board and if it passes there, it goes on to marketing and publishing panel
Hazel Millar, Co-publisher at Book Thug, an independent literary press
-Hazel is an independent publisher with 25 books published per year; literary fiction,creative non-fiction, poetry, some genre fiction
-some areas of growth at Book Thug are that the press is becoming a home for diverse writers, essays about racism, and indigenous voices
-for this press, memoirs are really strong, as well as women’s fiction, especially commercial women’s fiction (writing on negative life events)
-she likes to focus on diverse voices, and exciting new voices
-for editors relationship with authors, she likes to talk directly
with authors once the contract is signed but keeps agent updated on what’s happening
-most authors who come to Book Thug have agents
-they work with a small number of agents at Book Thug
 -we prefer to work directly with authors since we’re a small press
-writers are expected to do the editing or have it done independently; we sometimes accept work that has been self-edited and we will do some final clean up
-for memoirs I want to keep the unique voice of writer not a hired editors voice (be careful in your choice for editor if you choose one)
-for us, the quality of writing and research is the attraction, however, for a strong voice, we will work with writer to improve their editing
-personal touch can work if we know you or you are referred by one of our authors
-as an independent press we accept unsolicited manuscripts
-query Hazel or her husband directly but could take 6 months to respond (see website)
-agents submissions come first before we consider any of the unsolicited queries
-I can easily assess query letters myself but may pass them on to other editors for consideration
-at Book Thug, the full team is involved when a manuscript is reviewed and approved, an offer is made and a contract is negotiated with the author or agent
General Comments from all three editors:
-eBooks in Toronto are plateauing (less than 20%), however, audio books are expanding, (i.e. through I Tunes)
-in USA eBooks are 50%  usually through Amazon (romance or upscale market fiction)
-writers shouldn’t write to trends, I’m interested in theme rather than an outline of plot, scene by scene in your query
-original voices succeed; no directed writing is likely to make it through
-start with the most dramatic scene on the first page of your novel
-research is needed for the writer to know about the press and what they publish and this may change over time
-editors talk to agents in Canada all the time and therefore the agents send to us what they know we like
For further information on how to become a published writer go to the website at www.canadianauthors.org.