Monday, March 24, 2008

Writing FAQ #2 - Do I need an agent?

Q. My novel is almost finished and I want to start submitting it to publishers. Do I need an agent? And if so, how do I find one?

A. The answer is - maybe. Not very helpful? There are two ways to go.

One. Check out lots of similar books in your local bookstore or library, and identify four or five publishers who publish work similar to yours. Then go to their websites (99% of publishers have them - find them by Googling their name) and see what their guidelines say. Some will say they consider unagented work - meaning you can send it to them yourself. Others will say they only consider work that is submitted through an agent.

If you are pitching your own book to publishers, be sure to research how to do it well. Elizabeth Lyon's book The Sell Your Novel Toolkit is excellent; a number of other handbooks also teach you how to write a good query letter/outline/synopsis. etc. - all very important when you approach a publisher on your own behalf. Most publishers do offer very clear instructions about what they want to see when you pitch your book. So check their website, read the guidelines, AND GIVE THEM WHAT THEY ASK.

Two. You might choose to look for an agent so s/he can be selling your book while you're working on the next one. But if you want to do it this way, be aware that finding an agent to represent you takes as much time and skill as pitching your book to a publisher – and requires many of the same steps. Check out some of the resources listed here or pick up a copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2007: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over!

You're more likely to need an agent if you'r pitching fiction that non ficiton, which often sells on the basis of a good query/book proposal.

I know one agent who offers workshops about WHY you don't need an agent - so there's no good answer as to who needs one to sell what type of book.

It may depend on what you are writing, your background/publishing record and if you have good negotiating skills and insights into what makes a good contract.

A quick aside: those who write poetry, short stories, or articles rarely use agents. And there are fewer agents for children’s writers than there are for those writing for adults. The advice coming from agents who do represent children's work is to get one or two books published first, then find an agent.

Learning about what goes on at an agency from the inside out can help you refine your approach, and determine whether this is the route you want to go. A few agent blogs I find useful include:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This little piggie...

Is this a strange life, or wot!

So, I'm 'researching' a new picture book story idea... (the most I'll tell you right now is that to date it's called Monsieur le Porc and it features five pigs called Napolean).

And in the process I come across a website call Porcopilis - Considering the pig — a single–minded bestiary. And I'm hooked. I never knew there was so much to know, and people out there determined to know even more - about pigs.

A gazillion years ago, my friend Bab's dad kept a few. One week-end when her parents came and took us both away from boarding school for the weekend (known there and in those times as an Exeat), we went to visit them. And they attacked my shoes as soon as I edged one foot inside the fence.

I was traumatized, and retreated to the relative safety of the nearest caff where Babs' dad Ernest (I probably called him Mr. Tipson in those days) treated me to a knickerbocker glory.

Which looks like this, in case you've never encountered one.

So now I associate pigs with ice cream. Something that may well find its way into M. Le Porc - or some other story.

As I say. It's a strange world I inhabit these days. One in which memory, fnastasy, and wishful thinking collide.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Writing FAQ#1 - Stealing ideas

Q. How to I make sure other writers and editors don’t steal my ideas?

A. Some newer writers spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about this.

It happens very rarely; most writers have enough ideas to keep them busy and don’t need yours. And the word would soon get out about editors who stole from writers submitting their work to them.

Occasionally you might receive a rejection to an article or query, then later notice a similar piece in the same publication. These coincidences do happen, but the publication has probably had that piece in the works long before you sent in your idea.

Few ideas are truly original (and ideas can’t be copyrighted). And if another writer ‘steals’ your idea, the end result will probably hardly resemble what you had in mind.

You’ll get more by sharing your ideas with other writers, then by hoarding them. By talking about current projects, there's a good chance others will offer leads, contacts and other information that will support your efforts rather than threaten them.

Related exercise
Read an issue or two of your favourite magazine, and brainstorm three to five articles based on the topics included in the issues you've just reviewed, but with a different focus/take on each of the various subjects.

You'll find even more writing exercises in my book 101 - and more - Writing Exercises to get You Started & Keep You Going. Check it out here.

A change of heart - Canada Council grant awarded

Yesterday I heard that I have been awarded a Canada Council grant to write the companion book/sequel to Meeting Miss 405 (which is scheduled for publication by Orca in October 2008). May blessings fall upon all Canadian taxpayers!

I am, understandably pleased (thrilled, honoured, excited, right gobsmacked!).

I was turned down last year when I applied to for a grant to write an adult novel. So instead I wrote one for children, completed in June and in November accepted for publication by Orca Book Publishers.

In October I submitted my application to Canada Council for a grant to write another book about Tansy, this time focusing on the disappearance of the mysterious 'Piggy Boy' while Tansy is spending the summer at her grandfather's house on BC's Sunshine Coast.

I was not surprised when I heard earlier this month that I had not been awarded a grant (despite my project having been 'highly recommended'). Writers far better than I also received rejections this year.

Then yesterday more mail from the CC - this time saying that program budgets have been revised and my application was successful.

I may have done just a little shrieking with excitement!

It's not just the money. It's the fact that this grant gives me a little credibility with the arts establishment, and recognizes that children's writing is worth supporting.

So now of all the projects I have on the go, I will be working on the Piggy Boy until the end of the year, now that I am, in effect, working for the Canadian taxpayers!

I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts which last year invested $20.1 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

So this the Third Age?

Although I'm still on their books for another month (vacation leave), I had my last day working for Surrey Public Library on Friday, and a lovely send-off party hosted and planned by my collegues at Library Administration - Beth Barlow (front) , Melanie Houlden (far rt.), Namrit Uppal (left), Linda Bradley (2nd from left), Michael Ho, Jim Walsh, Dorothy Birak, Mary Murphy and Barbara Fialkowski.

It was a lovely relaxed evening with good food, wine, laughs, and remnsicences. (No tears... but I came close on a couple of occasions. My 'library life' will be a hard act to follow.)

In the week leading up to my last day I received some touching notes, calls, and gifts from many of the people I've worked with for the past 30 years.

But you know what they say. Plus ca change.... with nary a moment to catch my breath, the next day I was in class teaching an editing workshop.

But today is Sunday. And like the rest of the world I'm going to hang out, head out for a walk, visit a friend in hospital, and drop into the to mall to pickup a couple of things.

And prepare for work tomorrow - knowing that as I enter the Third Age, I may be 'on the pension', but I still have a part-time job to go to, AND four days a week to call my own.

Ah! The easy life! Don't I look relaxed?