Category Archives: Getting published

No Arguments? Father Knows Best

As some of you may know, the Globe and Mails’ Facts and Arguments recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the national newspaper held a contest inviting submissions for The Essay that centred on a moment of truth.

As a group, each of the Restless Writers has at one time or another submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail in the hopes of it being published in The Essay. It’s a right of passage for a new writer. We followed the submission guidelines, kept to the word limit, carefully critiqued and then revised our pieces to get them just right. We pressed send on our computers, anxiously awaiting a reply and then zip. Nada. No traction. Among the four of us, we’ve submitted a total of nine essays and have only managed to crack the secret code once with the publication of Maria’s entry about starting a second career.

Despite these terrible odds, some of the Restless Writers decided to once again dust off their keyboards and submit an essay to the moment of truth contest. They were good. One made us cry to read how life can change in an instant when faced with a personal health emergency. The other made us laugh with tales of kicking a serious caffeine habit. Again, we read the criteria, kept to the word limit and worked to polish our drafts. And you know what? That’s right. No dice.

So all of this has got me thinking, what DOES it take for a submission to make it past the steely guards surrounding the desk of the Facts and Arguments editor? In honour of Father’s Day today, I thought I’d ask the one person I know who’s actually had something published in Facts and Arguments – not once, but twice. My dad, Barry.

Writing is something my dad started in his retirement. He’s had some great success with personal essays and travel articles published multiple times in the Toronto Star and travel magazines.

So I asked him.

Me: What advice would you give to a writer looking to have their personal essay published in the Facts and Arguments section?

Dad: I have given it a lot of thought and here are my Top 5 tips.

  1. The editors are looking for a very good story. It doesn’t have to be “professional” but well written.
  2. Write about an honest personal topic, something unique. Humour helps too. Be self depreciating, you don’t always have to look good.
  3. Avoid having an axe to grind or making others look bad.
  4. Make sure your title is an attention getter. Think of what’s trendy in popular culture, alliteration can work well. In my case, an essay titled “A Wedding Trauma” became “One Wedding and a Trauma.”
  5. Give your piece a strong closing that puts it all into perspective.

So there you have it, some insider tips from a real life published Facts and Arguments author.

Believe me when I say, the man knows unique personal stories. One of his published essays detailed the time he accidentally walked into a metal sign and split open his forehead 30 minutes before he was due to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day! He ended up with five stitches. Did I mention it was in the middle of the SARS epidemic in Toronto?

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Me and my dad on my wedding day. Bandages and all!

While I don’t suggest personal injury as a route to publication, I do hope some of my dad’s tips might inspire you to not give up on the quest to be a part of the exclusive Facts and Arguments club.

Rejects Rejoice
In the meantime, for everyone who’s ever had their Facts and Arguments submission passed over, there is now a place where you can share your essay with the world as you intended.

The Restless Writers are proud to introduce a brand new blog called Restless Rejects – the site that will take your Facts and Arguments submission and post it. The only requirements? The essay must have been submitted to and rejected by the Globe and Mail and be under 1,000 words.

If you are still shaking your head wondering how the editors could have passed over your piece, we want it. Read more about the new blog.

P.S. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and a very special thank you to my dad for lending his support with this blog post and every other single thing I’ve ever done – including making it back from the hospital in time to walk me down the aisle! Now that’s a good dad. Happy Father’s Day.

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The Sky is Not the Limit

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Photograph by: FRED CHARTRAND , THE CANADIAN PRESS

Chris Hadfield is just plain cool.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Commander Hadfield, Canada’s most earthy space ambassador and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. His presentation resembled a TED talk, it was both inspiring and motivating, and wait for it—out of this world.

The thing that struck me the most is that he started dreaming what he describes as an “impossible dream” from the age of nine. Canada did not have a space program at the time, yet, he was determined to become an Astronaut. This meant preparing very early, advancing his education, learning to fly, learning to speak several languages, and learning to play guitar (now a terrestrial superstar by crooning David Bowie’s Space Oddity). He did these things and showed us ordinary earthlings that dreams do matter, even if only a slim possibility of manifestation, it can and will happen with dedication, preparation and patience.

There are days when I think finishing my current novel is an impossible dream. But I’m half-way there, I’m resuming momentum and receiving encouragement from my fellow Restless Writers. I can do this! And I will, because I am the commander of my writing career. I am dedicated, prepared, and ever so patient in the wonderful world of literary longings. My dream of becoming a novelist is too important to remain unlived. Sure, the odds are stacked against me. But I’m still going for it!

Thanks to extraordinary people like Chris Hadfield, who not only make us proud to be Canadian but who also show us how to make the impossible a reality.

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Filed under Author events, Books and stuff, Getting published, Inspiration

Are you super talented or just crazy?

Like many of you, I procrastinate by watching videos on You Tube.

Instead of writing, I find myself watching funny Jennifer Lawrence clips (that Katniss cracks me up) or the latest in Sophia Grace and Rosie (cuz I kinda love female rappers, even if they are only 8 yrs old—thank you, Ellen!). But have you ever tried to find a GOOD video about writing fiction? Book trailers do not count, plus, they are just weird.

I finally stumbled on a good writing video. If you’re a writer and have two minutes to chuckle (your protagonist can wait), check out John Hodgman’s advice to writers via the You Tube Channel known as THNKR. You might know him as an American actor, author and humourist, and he’s also been on The Daily Show and Attach of the Show (G4 TV) as a guest many times.

So, which category do you fall into? Crazy, mediocre, or super talented?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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Filed under Author Interviews, Books and stuff, Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing ideas

It’s Been a PITCH of a Summer

The Restless Writers have had some challenges this summer.

The pages and word counts have evaporated kinda like sweat. It’s been a summer of renos, indexes, puppies, and house hunting. Our meetings have gone down more like patio parties and opportunities to kvetch about our lives and ‘honey-do’ lists. But there is hope! We have all managed to share new ideas and bring the early workings of new-fangled projects to the table (along with brie and butter tarts).

We have pitches. Four of them.

Creating a pitch can be a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion. We all know a well-crafted pitch begins with a brief sentence that describes the book. So we started there, then followed it with character and situation information. We did this while taking into consideration three key story sparks and of course, the ultimate hook. We managed to come up with a structure that worked for us, while keeping in mind that we were pitching to each other as a writing group and not agents. We were pitching ideas, not complete projects.

And this is how we did it.

THE PERFECT PITCH:

  1. WORKING TITLE
  2. LOGLINE (i.e. one sentence summary)
  3. GENRE (i.e. YA/Women’s Fiction)
  4. WORD COUNT
  5. SIMILAR BOOK TITLES (or similar author’s style)
  6. MAIN CHARACTER (and main character’s goal)
  7. SITUATION
  8. CONFLICT
  9. DISASTER
  10. STORY RESOLUTION

Perhaps this is a template that you too can use while you pitch your new project to your peers. Try it for a few different projects before you settle on one. While it is a bit scary, it’s totally worth it.

Now the real work begins. We are about to begin plot summaries and outlines.

Our pitch of a Summer is setting us up for a fantastic Fall!

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Filed under Getting published, Group meetings, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing ideas

Out of the Mouths of Agents

Tip #27: Do not show up at an agent's office wearing this.

I used to be very superstitious when it came to querying agents. It started when someone told me the best time to query was between January and June, but I took it to another level. I started trying to get into the minds of agents (i.e. Would s/he be more receptive to my email in the morning or afternoon? Should I wait until mid-week in case s/he had a crappy weekend? Etc.). It was exhausting, not to mention…unhealthy.

Thankfully, the conference I went to last autumn cured me of my Agent-related OCD. The agent/editor panels were a revelation—instead of guessing what made agents tick, I was able to sit back and listen to them tell me. On the off chance there are other A-R OCD sufferers out there, here some pearls of wisdom, straight from the agent’s mouth:

What agents are seeing too much of:
– Vampires and werewolves
– Mid-life spiritual memoirs
– Heavy YA (i.e. young girls being severely abused)
– Talking animals in children’s books

What would agents love to see:
– Judy Blume-like contemporary middle grade
– Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars
– Historical thriller that lends to a series/branding

What can an agent bring to the table:
– Editorial experience
– Other opportunities to create revenue streams (i.e. speaker services)
– Someone who will champion your work to the world

What agents look for in a new author:
– Writing is becoming very voice-driven and it must be engaging and distinct (i.e. don’t try to write like J.K. Rowling)
– Emotion on the page that evokes a visceral response in the reader
– A great title can make the difference in an agent giving attention to your query
– Have an understanding of the publishing business so you know what your work has to go through before it’s printed
– Critique partners are essential in getting your manuscript ready for an agent, who will then take it up another notch before going to publishers

What all aspiring authors should know about agents:
– Agents take on new clients in cycles, depending on their current list, and much of getting an agent depends on timing
– Summer is not a slow time to query—it’s always busy (one agent signed a client on Christmas Eve! Another one found her client at a drag show!)
– A good query has a hook (logline), book (plot) and cook (bio)—don’t get too clever/cute/wordy

What agents think of social networking:
– Interacting on Twitter and Facebook demonstrates to editors/agents that you are serious about being a career author and building a network
– Unless you get 60,000+ hits per month, having a blog is not as important for fiction writers—the story is what really matters
– Remember that the internet is like a live microphone—be nice and supportive online because agents and editors and readers will Google you
– Think of Google as your virtual resume

What agents think of self-publishing:
– It’s ideal for traditionally-published authors who already have a readership base or who’ve regained rights to previously-published work
– Do it properly (e.g. hire a professional editor, graphic designer)
– Digital publishing is growing, but it’s still one piece of the author’s puzzle
– Agents/editors act as gatekeepers for quality control and can offer brand management (i.e. media outreach) that an author can do alone, but is infinitely harder
– “Debut” is not a dirty word in publishing and often no data is better than bad data when it comes to sales tracking
– It can be tricky trying to move from self-publishing to traditional—40,000 copies sold through self-publishing may be interpreted by a traditional publisher as either not enough copies sold or that it’s been sold to everyone who will buy it
– If your genre is hard to categorize or you have plenty of time to self-promote, self-publishing may be a good option for you

What should you ask an agent when you get “the call” (or, more likely, “the email”):
– How do you work (i.e. does contact occur via phone, email, etc.)?
– What’s the plan from here? What do you see as next steps in terms of short and long-term strategy?
– What do you connect with in the book?
– What revisions do you suggest?
– What’s your experience with my kind of book?

What’s the biggest thing Lori learned from the agents?
– Agents are, remarkably, regular people. And like other regular people, there are some you click with more than others. They have good and bad days, they have personal preferences when it comes to books (and, one would assume, other things), they love their authors and they love what they do. Most importantly, they all want to find new authors with fresh voices and exciting ideas.

As you may have gathered, it appears that the best time to query your dream agent is…right now. Seriously—if your Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars and query letter are as perfect as you can make them, it’s time to send them out into the world.

If your voice is strong, pace is unputdownable, timing is right and you don’t include glitter with a lemon-scented query letter, today could be the day you get an agent.

LD

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Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Trials and Tribulations

Some of us write great stories. But all of us live them.

For those of you still looking for ideas for Christmas, here’s one: Chicken Soup for the Soul O Canada by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark.

This week, I received a call to do a media interview for Chicken Soup as I am a contributor to this edition! My story, From Vile to Vegas appears in Chapter Nine: Life Lessons and is about a home reno project—one that was full of drips, drama, and dazzle. Sure, renovations aren’t typically associated with celebrating Canadian culture but why shouldn’t they be? I think being Canadian is about having a story—and we all have them. I had written the story based on personal experience, and my writing group encouraged me to submit it. The journey to flow, form, and function (it was a bathroom reno) was honest, humorous, and oh so frighteningly real.

Chicken Soup for the Soul O Canada is full of inspirational, amusing, and encouraging stories that will touch the heart of any Canadian. Stories include a wide range of topics written by Canadians, from daily life to Canadian holidays, along with tales from tourists and visitors. In addition to the 101 stories contributed by everyday Canadians, personal bonus stories from Amy Sky, Marc Jordan, Matt Duchene, George Kourounis, Laura Robinson and lyrics from Liona Boyd’s upcoming album, “The Return,” start every chapter.

Being a part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul family has been a positive experience for me. If you like to write (and need some publishing credits under your belt), check out their submission guidelines at www.chickensoup.com. They are always looking for new contributors to share stories of hope, courage, and inspiration.

Has anyone else been published in Chicken Soup? What was your experience like?

BJas

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Filed under Author Interviews, Book Reviews, Books and stuff, Getting published, Success stories

You Think Querying is Tough???

LD

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Filed under Getting published, Trials and Tribulations