CanWrite 2019 – Vancouver B.C.

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.

Finding My Genre – February 2017

As a fiction writer, I’ve found through attempts at marketing, a need to better refine the genre in which I create most of my work. To do this, I’ve had to read work in several different genres and determine what’s the best fit for me. In my case the key drivers are finding a theme which has a strong emotional pull, create relevant characters who gradually come to life as I write and take them on a journey which means there needs to be a plot. The authors who resonate for me therefore also have these characteristics in their stories. I can therefore define my writing style into the genres of upmarket fiction, women’s fiction and/or psychological suspense.

I’ve been an avid reader since grade school and annually purchase numerous hard copy and eBooks but I’m disappointed to say that over the past year I’m buying less and less. The market has been taken over by thriller after thriller or crime fiction with the latest in boutique detective or policeman or policewoman. My genres seems to be pushed more and more to the back shelves. One of my favourite authors, Jodi Picoult, creates compelling psychological suspense stories, an example of which would be Mercy. It caught my attention since we recently amended the criminal code in Canada to allow for medical assistance in dying (2016-06-17). In her story, the protagonist, Allie Gordon’s husband who is the local police chief, Cameron MacDonald, has to arrest his cousin, James MacDonald for killing his beloved wife, Maggie. As the story unfolds, the reader learns that James loved his wife, in fact, he loved her even more that she loved him and he killed her because she begged him to since she was dying with metastasized cancer and was in great pain. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I don’t want to spoil the story but the intrigue for me was how differently all the key characters looked at this event and decided whether or not James was guilty of murder.

Another favourite author is Margaret Atwood who through her recent novel, Hagseed, takes us on a gripping and emotionally rich journey of revenge. Her main character, Felix, is the artistic director of Makesheiweg Theatre Festival where he’s completed the production of a new version of the Tempest and is ready to stage it. With no explanation, he’s fired by head of the board and finds out its part of a plot crafted by an underling whom he’s been mentoring. He ends up in exile in the backwoods haunted by memories of his young daughter, Miranda, who died and is focused on plotting his revenge on the group who fired him. After twelve years, his opportunity arises as he’s hired to direct theatre in a nearby prison. He pulls together a motley crew of inmate actors to use to trap his enemies. Will his revenge save Felix? I don’t want to spoil the surprise so will leave it up to you to find out how the drama ends.

Canadian Writers Summit – June 2016

I apologize for my absence from this blog due to preparation for writers conference, Branch and National AGMs as well as marketing two novels and beginning the outline for a third. Now that I’m back, I want to tell you about what a wonderful opportunity the Canadian Writers Summit in Toronto in June this year was for all local writers from many genres. It was jointly hosted by a cohort of Canadian writers organizations including my own Canadian Authors Association.

The first day was dedicated to a Canadian Book Summit and included exciting panels of agents, editors and publishers and presentations from authors and key note speakers. There was a good discussion from experts about the pros and cons of e-book subscriptions as an addition or an alternative to hard copy books. Representatives were from HarperCollins US, Scribners, and Coach House Books. The general observation was that the long term success of e-books is still undetermined and that hard copy books still dominate the market.

The next panel showcased a group of professional editors from McClelland & Stewart, The New Quarterly, HarperCollins Canada and House of Anansi Press. They discussed the importance of the relationship between the editor and the writer and stressed the fact that editing although invisible is still enormously influential in the success of the book. New eyes can help shape the winning product.

The next panel with Penguin Random House Canada and House of Anansi Press focused on marketing and encouraged partnering with a con-competitive, like-minded business or organization to stretch your marketing budget and expand your audience. One of the examples used was to negotiate a Wine and Books series with your local library to showcase writers. Besides, the wine and networking can give the writer a social life.

A panel of writing experts including an award winning author, and representatives from HarperCollins US, Penguin Books Canada, Zola Books and House of Anansi Press discussed a range of issues currently concerning to members of the book industry. They generated a list of emerging trends and predictions for 2017 and beyond including the need to include more diversity in writers, the balancing of e-books against continued publishing of hard copy books and the ongoing interest in memoirs or narrative non-fiction books.

The session which affected me the most was called First Page Challenge and required writers to submit from their work to a Expert Panel in advance, the first page of their novel or memoir for critique. The panel of agents and editors provided critiques verbally for a full audience of writers. Even though I was well aware of the importance of a first page and chapter, listening to the critique of experts showed me the impact it can have when a writer is hoping to attract an agent or editor. I will use the skills I picket up here when I start writing my new novel this fall.

The greatest pleasure from the conference was spending four days with a great group of talented and committed writers. We can learn much from each other and the enthusiasm of each writer for her own creation is contagious making me want to read them all.

Welcome from Karen

When I’m asked what kind of writer I am, which happens more often than I would expect, I respond that I’m the kind of writer who dreams large. It reminds me of the quotation from Walt Disney, All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. Aren’t all writers dreamers? Otherwise, we would give up long before we saw our names in print for the first time.