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.

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.