Reading outside your genre

Reading outside your genre

Gwynn Scheltema

My last post was about defining what genres we write in. Which got me to thinking about what genres we read. And the value of reading outside our usual genres.

Books that move me

I love language and wallowing in words. I love to reread evocative passages, to stop mid story to share a sentence with my husband that I find particularly beautiful or thought-provoking. I like skilled play with fiction forms. Consequently, I often gravitate to literary fiction. Story is important to me, but plot is not. I prefer internal character struggles rather than thrilling events, or fast-paced action. I’m happy to spend time in people’s heads, seeing the world from their perspectives. Recent reads (which I highly recommend) have been: The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

I also like the books I read to be set in exotic places, in other cultures, and affected by political or natural turmoil that I am never likely to be faced with. I like to learn about other customs and occupations. The Bonesetters Daughter by Amy Tan (historical fiction), Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenston (non fiction/memoir) and In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner (historical fiction) fit that bill.

Broadening my reading horizons

But I’ve also had to spend a fair amount of time this year away from home, and have found myself reading books passed on to me or chosen for me by others, books I likely would have walked right by in the bookstore.

I learned a lot in the process. Reading time is limited and with the books I have to read for a variety of reasons, the time left for reading for enjoyment is really limited, but I was reminded that broadening my reading horizons was a necessary—and enjoyable— part of being a well-rounded writer and editor.

What I learned from the books that found me

Of the books that found me, let me tell you about just three of them. Turns out, I enjoyed them all, and reading as a writer, I learned a lot too:

The first one: Spud by John van der Ruit is a YA humorous coming-of-age story set in a fictional private boys school in South Africa in 1990 around the time of the release of Mandela. It’s written in a diary style like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

Apart from bringing back a lot of memories of my own schooling in an Anglican Church School in Zimbabwe, Spud reminded me that humour is a great foil for addressing tough and often brutal circumstances. This book tackled bullying, attempted rape, mental illness as well as the usual problems of growing up, boarding school and relationships. It showed me that sometimes less is more, and that young boys and girls face many of the same problems. Structurally, the diary format allowed much to be said without embellishment or long drawn-out scenes. It allowed room for things to be left unsaid.

The next: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, listed as a contemporary mystery thriller, is a multi-voice fiction about a seemingly ordinary small-town and what really goes on behind closed doors.

Rowling’s dialogue in this book is superb. She handles the dialogue of different ages, cultures and socio-economic characters in way that their speech and dialect is distinct, authentic and utterly believable. I had a hard time getting into the book because there is an enormous cast of characters, and Rowling “head-hops” a great deal, but once in, I was hooked. From this book, I learned that multiple viewpoints can work well as long as each voice has their own story not more or less important than the others.

And the third: Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler is a memoir by Trudy Kanter, an Austrian Jew who used her connections as a hat designer to escape events in World War II and find safety for herself and her husband Walter. Like Spud, this book handled grave situations with humour. What really struck me though, was how Trudy spent a lot of time talking about hats and fashion and parties and décor and other things that at first seemed frivolous and inappropriate for the dire war situation and terrible and frightening circumstances she was facing. But then I realized that that was Trudy’s coping mechanism. It got me thinking about the different ways different people use to handle a given situation. Just because I might handle a situation one way, my characters (and readers) might do something completely different.

Other reasons to read out of your usual genre

Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Yes, you should read extensively in the genre you write to become familiar with it on all levels, but reading on a regular basis outside your genre, outside your comfort zone, makes you a better well-rounded writer. It clears the cobwebs away in your creative brain. Gets you out of a rut. New perspectives, new craft approaches and new possibilities. Same-old-same-old in your reading leads to same-old-same-old in your writing.

Who knows, you may discover a new genre that really speaks to you. Perhaps that coming-of-age story you’ve been struggling with as an historical romance might be better reworked as a dystopian YA. But you have to read some dystopian YA to find out.

And not just different genres, but different writing forms: short stories, poetry, plays…  Each form can teach you different writing skills that will help with your novel. Plays are excellent for studying dialogue, poetry can remind you about image and metaphor and the economy and power of words.

So take the plunge, be adventurous, make a pact with yourself to include a new genre or new form when you pick up your next book. You’ll be glad you did.

DID YOU KNOW

Ruth and Gwynn are off to the Niagara Region this month to deliver a workshop that explores writing in different styles and genres, called What’s in Your Writing Closet. If your group is interested in this or any of our workshops, explore our on demand workshop options.

 

 

What Genre do You Write?

What Genre do You Write?

Gwynn Scheltema

Seems like a simple question, but increasingly these days it can be confusing. Genres not only have subgenres, but subgenres have sub-subgenres: Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction (or science fantasy) but steampunk itself has sub genres like steamgoth, gaslight romance, clockpunk and dieselpunk.

Then of course, you have the age cross-overs and cross-genres like paranormal romance, crime fantasy, or action comedy.

The mind boggles.

Why does knowing your genre matter?

Initially, it doesn’t matter. When you begin your first draft, story is key and the story will land in the genre it fits best. But once that draft is done, knowing your genre is important. You’ll need to know so you can fine tune your manuscript and pitch it to the right agent or publisher.

It’s a marketing issue. How many places will your book fit? Knowing your genre shows a better understanding of the market, which can only help your submission. If you don’t know where your book fits, you’re saying you don’t know your target audience.

We all like to think that our book is unique, but the reality is, if we can correctly categorize it, readers can access it and agents and publishers will know immediately whether it potentially fits their market.

Genre and editing

And because knowing genre is a marketing issue, it becomes an editing issue, so you can mould your submission to fit publishing needs and reader expectations.

Let’s take the crime/mystery genre as an example and the typical “dead body”. In a cosy mystery, your readers will expect to spend a few chapters meeting the inhabitants of a cosy community and getting to know the protagonist and her friends before the “dead body” is discovered. The actual killing will be off stage. In a police procedural mystery, the “dead body” is there by the end of chapter one. Readers may even witness the murder. It will be important to follow real police investigative and forensic procedures.

Some publishers have well-defined expectations that can help tremendously at this editing stage. Harlequin, the world’s largest publisher of romance, provides clear, detailed guidelines on their website for each of their genre imprints, from the word count to the level of sexual content.

So what is my genre?

Genre definitions are constantly changing and evolving, but you have to start somewhere.

1. Prepare a book jacket blurb

Once the first draft is done, prepare a book jacket blurb (the paragraphs on the back cover that entice readers to buy because they answer the question “What is this book about?”.)  Writing the jacket blurb helps to distill the thrust of the story: the conflict, the stakes and the character arc.

It also helps define what genre it is, because it focuses on the main thread of the story.

2. Define the main genre

With your book jacket blurb in hand, you have your main dominant story thread. Use that main thread to define the main genre. For instance, if your book involves a mystery and a romance, is the dominant story thread a classic “who done it” with a bit of romance thrown in for character growth? (mystery) Or is it really about a relationship blossoming between two people who happen to be solving a mystery together? (romance)

Here’s a list of some of the main genres to get you started:

  • Action/Adventure — epic journeys, lots of conflict/pursuit, high stakes, some violence.
  • Crime/Mystery — stories that involve solving a crime, usually a murder.
  • Fantasy —magic, other worlds, myths and mythological/mystical figures.
  • Historical — fictional characters and events in an historical setting
  • Horror— stories that invoke dread or fear.
  • Thriller/Suspense — harm/danger about to befall a person or group and the attempts to evade the harm/danger, high tension.
  • Romance —love/intimacy/relationships.
  • Sci-fi —impact of technology, aliens, science-related alternative worlds, often futuristic
  • Women’s fiction — stories about women experiencing emotional growth

Once you have your main genre, you can explore subgenres. This link on the definition and characteristics of the main genres is worth looking into.

3. Define your reader

Nail down the age group your book is aimed at: children, young adult, new adult or adult. If your manuscript appeals to more than one group, you have an age cross-over. (Think Harry Potter (children/adult) or Hunger Games (YA/adult).)

Imagine your ideal reader. If you were that reader looking for your book, where would you look? Again, focus on the main narrative thread. Is your ideal reader looking for a romance with a bit of mystery thrown in, or are they problem solvers who like mysteries and might like some relationship stuff thrown in?

Ask your beta readers where they would expect to find your book. Ask your critique group. Tell other writers your blurb and then ask them, “What section of a bookstore would you look in to find my book?”

4. Visit a book store

Go to a bricks & mortar bookstore or hop on the Net. Identify half a dozen books similar to yours and find where they are shelved. Go to Goodreads and check the Listopia recommendations for your main genre, like “Best Science Fiction.” That will lead you to the sub-genres like “Best Steampunk Books.” Read the blurbs on the back covers. Does your book jacket blurb follow a similar pitch?

One way to do this is to have two windows open, one on Amazon and the other on Goodreads. Read the blurb on Goodreads and then search the book on Amazon to see its classification.

I always like the section below the “purchase” button with the phrase “People who bought this also bought….” It’s a great way to find other novels that are categorized the same way. Could your book fit here?

Still not sure?

You’re fine as long as you know your main genre and reader age. Agents will be able to spot a crossover even if you haven’t mentioned it. If your query letter has a good hook and good comparables, the sub-genre will be apparent to them.

However, the time you spend on defining your genre will help you make a better connection between your story and your reader. And your well-crafted blurb will be ready for those moments when someone (maybe an agent or publisher) asks “So what are you writing?”

DID YOU KNOW?

Vicki Delany, our guest at this year’s fall retreat, Turning Leaves  2017, writes in several subgenres of the crime/mystery genre. As  Eva Gates she writes the cosy Lighthouse series, and as Vicki Delany she writes a Police Procedural series featuring Constable Molly Smith.

Beta Readers & You

Beta Readers & You

Ruth E. Walker

The writer in the attic garret, a single candle barely illuminating the page, the scratchscratchscratch of the pen crossing the paper. Is this your idea of the writer’s lonely life?

Well, not this writer. Yes, the act of writing is solitary. And some of us do isolate ourselves for short periods of uninterrupted time. Sometimes, even with a candle or two. But eventually, even the most private of writers needs to surface and find readers. Because, with few exceptions, that is what writers crave: a connection to others through the writing.

At a recent workshop, one writer asked the others if they wrote with an audience in mind. The answers were as varied as the participants. Some start out with an “ideal reader” in their head; some brought in the idea of a reader later on, the second or third edit, for example. But we all agreed that eventually we work with the concept of someone actually looking at our words.

An agent. An editor. Readers.

So you have the final draft of your manuscript. Seeking publication and submitting our work is a challenge at best and often, it borders on terrifying. Surely there’s a simple way to feel more confident when you press the SEND button.

I belong to a fairly intense critique group: Critical ms. That intrepid bunch has saved my writerly bacon many times as they gave feedback on chapters and scenes every few weeks. And over the past summer, they all read my final draft manuscript. I know I’m lucky to have them; critique groups rarely look at the complete work.

So what if you don’t have a Critical ms in your life? You have the manuscript in hand, hoping to catch a publisher’s attention. And you want feedback from readers. Here’s where beta readers come in. They are not copy editors or proofreaders. Instead, they will read that entire manuscript and give you a reader’s response.

How to find beta readers

Beta readers often read your work for no charge. But some charge a fee. Decide in advance how you will ask for the favour or if you will pay experienced beta readers for the service. If you decide on paid readers, make sure you ask for and get recommendations on their past performance.

Connect with beta readers through networking, word-of-mouth opportunities and social media:

  • Workshops and conferences for writers are great places to meet other writers working at the craft, just like you. They can be your beta readers or connect you with their beta readers.
  • Offer to be a beta reader: give and you can receive. Besides, a wise writer learns from reading others’ writing.
  • Tell friends and family members you are looking for beta readers (proceed with caution: feedback from people you know and care about can be more emotionally energized than you realize.)
  • Connect through writing blogs, reader/fan-fiction websites, social media such as Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. You can let others know you want beta readers through these platforms.
  • Be open to readers who are unfamiliar with your genre or topic. They might ask questions and see things that others gloss over when they read your work.

How to treat a beta reader

Once you find a beta reader or two, let them know what you expect. And give them the tools they need to do that.

  1. Don’t offer a rough manuscript to beta readers:
    • A polished manuscript is properly formatted: page numbers, chapter headings/numbers, 2-inch margins, double-spacing and indented paragraphs.
    • Work hard yourself first to ensure few typos, grammar glitches and logic slips
    • Imagine your beta readers talking with others: I just read this really confusing book. I couldn’t make sense of the timelines and the characters were just so flat…
    • Ask yourself: Is this draft complete and ready for readers?
  2. Present your manuscript professionally:
    • Have your polished draft ready in both electronic and hard copy formats.
    • Some want to read it more “book style” — 2 pages per sheet, landscape format; some want it in manuscript format (see point #1)
    • If they want a hard copy, be prepared to print it: don’t expect them to pay for the printing.
    • Ask your reader: How do you want to read this?
  3. Give your readers guidance:
    • Offer at least a cover page, outlining what you are looking for, such as: plot glitches, slow sections, any confusions, characters that don’t connect with the reader, etc.
    • Prepare a checklist if that is simpler for you and your reader, but leave lots of room for comments and questions.
    • Encourage your reader: I welcome any and all criticisms and suggestions, and appreciate your time in reading my book. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings.
  4. Use beta readers to help with your query or marketing:
    • You can include positive comments from your readers in your query letter. But keep it really brief and professional: Beta readers offered excellent feedback that helped refine the final draft.
    • If you’re self-publishing, a snippet of praise on the back cover or inside can help sell your book.
    • Example: A fast-paced and exciting thriller… A timeless love story that kept me reading to the end…
  5. Say thank you:
    • Send a personal note following up after they give you their feedback.
    • When your book is published, it may be appropriate to thank your readers inside.
    • Ask: I’d like to recognize your help. Can I mention your name in my acknowledgement page?

Remember: A beta reader is not there to feed your ego. Don’t take the comments personally. Perhaps you don’t agree; reading is subjective, after all. But always say thank you, nonetheless.

And if you are getting comments or questions from more than one reader on the same topic, perhaps you need to rethink your opinion. This just might save you from having an editor or agent ask you the very same questions.

DID YOU KNOW?
Mark Coker

Mark Coker of Smashwords, the highly successful e-book distributor, has a few things to say about beta readers. He and his wife used a specific process for their novel Boob Tube to ensure their beta readers had the right tools to respond. He shared some great tips in Publishers Weekly online.

Do you use beta readers? Let us know about your experience.

Recipe for a Writing Grant

Recipe for a Writing Grant

Ruth E. Walker

Gwynn and I know firsthand what a thrill it is when someone validates us as writers. When you are told that you’ve won an award, a scholarship or a grant for your creative work, it’s not just about the money. Don’t get me wrong. For almost all of us, the “starving artist” is not a metaphor. It’s a hard reality.

Winning an award or grant is more than an income boost, however. It shows the world that others place worth on your craft. And it validates you as a working writer, one who is submitting their work for evaluation. That you are willing to risk the opinion of strangers.

So it gives us great pleasure to participate in an annual scholarship program with The Writers’ Community of Durham Region. WCDR is a 300+-member networking organization for writers of all types and levels. Heather O’Connor and I have been members for years and Gwynn was there at their very first meeting in the 90s. We all know that education is a prime focus for this non-profit group.

2017 Essay Prompt

When we were approached a few years ago to be part of their annual WCDR scholarship program we said Yes! Writescape funds a $150 scholarship.

Applicants must be members of WCDR, they must complete an online form to outline their background and budget details on their writing project/plans and, most importantly, craft a compelling essay inspired by a writing prompt. All applications are judged on their practical, logical content as well as how their passion is conveyed in responding to the prompt.

Our $150 support is not tied to taking any of our workshops or retreats. Writescape has no part in the adjudication process. We aren’t on any of the judging panels, we see none of the applications or essays, and only learn the name of the recipient a day or so before the award is announced.

A prize-winning event

It’s always been wonderful to attend the award breakfast and to hand out the prize. But this year was especially delightful for me. I’ve known the winner for twenty years. I also know he was the originator of the WCDR scholarship program and willingly volunteers his business acumen and well-honed technology skills to support the group and individual members.

In short, Rich Helms a good guy.

Rich Helms is not, however, a poet. Nor does he write mysteries or thrillers or historical romance novels. His excellent resource book Book Trailer 101 coaches writers on making their own book trailers. And if you want to understand Amazon SimpleDB, Rich co-wrote a guidebook on that as well. So I was curious and asked Rich if I could see his application and essay. What technological advance was Rich taking on this time? He willingly shared his application. Turns out, Rich reaches back to the early days of civilization for his latest topic.

Rich is baking bread. And he’s writing about it.

In his background notes, Rich shows his logical side. “…40 years in computer research and development, where I took complex ideas and turned them into marketable products.” and lays out his plan “The next thing I want to tackle is how to write a recipe – an area in which I have no expertise.”

But baking bread is his passion. Does his essay reveal any passion?

“When I retired from the company I once owned, I spent a month living by the ocean. Every day, my dog, Margaret, and I would walk the shore, then stop and fish. My all-consuming thought was, what now?

I’m a computer nerd who bakes bread and writes about it, and I’m not afraid to describe bread baking as a sensuous experience. I revel in the feeling of kneading dough into a boule of smooth, elastic food that is alive and growing. I breathe deeply the smell of the flour and yeast fermenting, breaking down the starches as well as the tantalizing aromas of caramelizing sugars…”

“…Thinking back to my walks by the ocean with Margaret …when I returned each day, our footprints were gone. Only pictures on my phone proved that we had walked the shore. The sand looked clean, and all traces of the day before were removed. What remained was a clean slate beckoning us to start the walk again.

This all makes me think about my journey with breadbaking. The traces of the journey disappear; time washes them away. But what survives are the writing, the stories, the recipes and what I learn along the way. As I move forward, I am excited to knead a deeper element of writing into the mix.”

Yup. I’d say the passion is there. And a wonderful depth and elegance to Rich’s writing that I’d not seen before.

A worthwhile gift to writers

We know that every writer who has received the Writescape scholarship has appreciated the support and used the money to deepen their craft or expand their skills into new areas. This time, it’s especially nice for us to know the recipient. And I can add that I have tasted Rich’s breads: a superb cheese loaf and dinner rolls that engaged the senses and deliciously filled the belly.

This ancient craft is even older than written language. I’ll be looking for Rich’s recipe book but in the meantime, I’ll settle for an occasional taste from the hearth. Yum!

DID YOU KNOW

Writescape offers Get That Grant, a fabulous one-day workshop on the art and skill of applying for writing grants and scholarships. Participants have a pretty good track record, and we can happily boast that Rich Helms is only the latest success story from taking the workshop this past February. Heather O’Connor offers her workshop yearly in Durham Region as well as “on demand” for groups and organizations that express interest. Email info@writescape.ca for details.

 

 

Agent Reality Check: 5 Top Things We Learned

Agent Reality Check: 5 Top Things We Learned

Ruth E. Walker

At our annual fall retreat, Turning Leaves, we always invite a special guest to offer a workshop and hold a fireside Q&A session. Usually, we ask an author to join us and our writers have been delighted by the insights and inspiration from our generous guests.

This year, we thought we’d try something different. We invited literary agent Hilary McMahon, Vice-president of Westwood Creative Artists. Come join us, we said.

hilarys-workshop-resizedAnd join us, she did.dinner-resized

From Friday dinner to Sunday breakfast, Hilary was a full participant. She delivered a wonderful Friday evening chat on the role and challenges of the agent and gave a great Saturday workshop on preparing compelling query letters.

We’re happy to share a few tips from the many she offered throughout the weekend:

1  Do your research:

Visit the agency website to get details on each agent’s submission guidelines, and the correct spelling of the agency name and the agent’s name. Pay attention to each agent’s information. You don’t want to send a query about your fabulous fantasy sci-fi steampunk graphic novel to an agent who only is seeking nonfiction manuscripts.

Go to book launches or read the acknowledgment pages of books similar to yours to find out who the agents are who represent those writers. See “Be strategic” at the end of this post.

2  Be professional:

Dear agent — you are writing to a person with whom you hope to have an important relationship, so use their name. But remember that this is a professional relationship, so no first names here. And get that name right. Hilary’s has been sent queries with another agent’s name in the salutation…a copy-and-paste oopsie!

Submit a clean query and clean sample in manuscript format without any typos or grammatical errors. Hilary was clear: it all affects how the agent views your manuscript in comparison with the 500+ others received that year. No agent will ask for the full manuscript if your query doesn’t demonstrate you can write well and convey the flavour of your style. And for the same reason, your writing has to be the best possible writing you can submit. See “Be ready”…

business-19148_640Last, but not least, daily follow-up calls and emails will likely ring warning bells for any agent — it’s annoying and the sign of someone very, very needy. Sure, you’re on pins and needles waiting, but give the agent some time to get to your query.

But Hilary says that if you have a valid reason for a follow-up email, by all means fire away. Valid reason? If you receive a writing award or grant, follow up. If you have a short story coming out in a literary magazine or national publication, follow up. In short, if you have important writing news, follow up. An agent will want to know.

3  Be ready:

It’s a competition and most agents receive hundreds and even thousands of queries each year. Of those, a few dozen get chosen to submit their work. Of those few, even fewer get picked for a second or even third read. Of those, one or two may get a contract. So when an agent asks for your full manuscript, you want to have something that’s polished and ready to submit.

4  Be realistic

A contract with an agent does not equal a contract with a publisher. Agents don’t earn a penny until you do, so naturally a good agent will be working hard to secure the best possible publishing deal. But it’s a tough climate right now, especially for fiction. Hilary talked about having manuscripts that she absolutely loved but nonetheless, couldn’t land a publisher that felt the same. But she offered hope when she recounted the story of one writer. She couldn’t land a home for the writer’s first manuscript but secured a publisher for the next one.

5  Be strategic

system-954972_640An agent can represent a writer for many years. Like a marriage, it is an important kind of partnership, so you want that relationship to be strong and effective. You want an agent who really likes (loves!) your manuscript, and believes in you and your creative ability. Someone you can work with.

So, this is more than just “Do your research.”  Think carefully about who you send your query to. A top literary agent would be a great coup but you will be competing for attention with international bestselling authors. Would an intermediate-level agent have more room and time to focus on developing your career? What about a new agent? They might be even more high-energy on your behalf…but does that agent have the contacts in the publishing field? And the same goes for the agent’s agency.

We know that landing an agent is a goal of most writers, so isn’t the point to get one? Of course. But our weekend with Hilary McMahon gave us plenty to think about and we all left with at least this one piece of advice. The point may be to get an agent, but an even better point is to work at getting the right agent…at least the right agent for you.

Did you know…

Registration is now open for Spring Thaw 2017, our all-inclusive retreat at Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake in Ontario, April 21 to 23, or 21 to 25. Receive feedback from both Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth E. Walker on 10 ms pages submitted in advance, as well as one-on-one consultation on your writing project.

writing-427527_1920Morning warm-up exercises and follow-up private discussions in the afternoon offer support when and if you need it.

Private room accommodations in cozy lakeside cottages: wood-burning fireplaces and full kitchens stocked for in-cottage breakfasts. Join the group for lunch or take it back to your cottage if you’re on a roll. Relax in the casually elegant dining room for candlelight dinners.

Stay for 3 days or Extend Your Pen for 5 days. Either way, you escape to write…with Writescape.

 

Lights, Action…TV interview primer

Lights, Action…TV interview primer

Ruth with Tom Taylor on Readers & Writers, Rogers TV
Ruth with Tom Taylor on Readers & Writers, Rogers TV

Ruth E. Walker

I used to imagine what it would be like to be interviewed for TV. I knew I’d be nervous. And I still am…each time. But being prepared in advance was my key to surviving and appearing calm.

There are differences between a live and taped production, (in a taped show, you can make horrible mistakes and they can edit them out…usually) but the basics for both scenarios are the same.

Look good

You are pretty much on your own for hair, makeup and wardrobe. So choose your “look” well in advance.

charlie-chaplin-898308_640Dress to keep the attention on the conversation. Avoid plaids or busy stripes/polka dots. Lots of fringes. Clunky, dangling jewellery. Super shiny fabrics. Clothing gaps (think too tight, too short, too low cut) or baggy outfits. (and fellas, if you think I’m just talking to women here, think again…)

Shine your shoes. Maybe the camera won’t pick them up but good heavens, everyone in the studio, including the host, will see those mud-spattered runners.

On the Telling Stories set with host Jules Carlysle
On the Telling Stories set with host Jules Carlysle

You will likely be wired for sound. Commonly, a lavalier microphone clips onto your clothes somewhere around your upper chest. The wire hides inside your clothes and the transmitter (a small box unit) is clipped somewhere on your back, out of view. Easy peasy if you wear a suit jacket or sweater. Remember, production staff need to snake the wire through your clothes.

Take a minute in the washroom when you first arrive at the studio to make sure that cowlick is behaving and any loose hair/dandruff is brushed off your shoulders. Washroom quiet can also help calm your nerves.

We all have certain physical tics—I clench my jaw. These tics intensify when you’re nervous. Practise being relaxed in front of a mirror, hands in your lap or gently active when emphasizing a point. Maintain slow and easy breathing. Bring that attitude into the studio.

Telling Stories host Jules Carlysle & guest poet Ingrid Ruthig
Telling Stories host Jules Carlysle & guest poet Ingrid Ruthig

Keep your focus on your interviewer; don’t look around the studio or directly into the camera—even a quick glance away can be distracting. If you need a break, look down at your book on the table or at your hands in your lap.

Yes, I said your book on the table. Remember always to bring it along. And if you have any attractive promotional material, such as an upright banner or portable book display unit, ask in advance if you should bring it to the studio. On Jules Carlysle’s Telling Stories (Rogers TV), a children’s author brought along a colourful display that showcased her series of books for young readers. Effective!

Be professional

Be on time. Better yet, be early.

Television production is costly and a late guest is never appreciated—especially for live TV. But if something happens to delay you, make sure you have the production team’s number to call or text.

Email in advance any important information you want the host(s) and the production team to know and/or promote:

  • your full name and contact info: website address, social media, telephone, etc.
  • date, time and place of next book launch/appearance, etc.
  • bookstores that carry your book
  • the name of your book and publisher

Remember to bring a hard copy of all these details with you, in case

hand-226358_640Say thank you. You are an invited guest to the program, given an opportunity to speak publicly and provided with an audience. Of course you say thank you. If you have book published, give a copy to the host(s).

I still get people recalling various times I’ve been interviewed on TV so be assured the power of on-screen promotion has long legs. All the more reason to appreciate each opportunity.

Know why you are there

You are there to showcase or sell something. So be prepared. Think in terms of images and metaphors—sound bites create quickly recognizable images/ideas in the viewer’s mind.

“My book is a quest story with a modern twist.”

“Writing is easy; it’s the editing that slows me down.”

“When I sold my first story, the kids had to peel me off the ceiling.”

ariadna-oltra-883879_640Most televised shows have a specific focus. Daytime shows are generally informational with an upbeat tone; if there is more than one host, there’s friendly banter and lots of smiles. Feature interviews (single host; often longer interview times) are also themed. An arts-themed show will have an arts-focused audience. A TV program that features historical writers…well, you get the point. Know before you go: what are they looking for? Do your best to provide it.

megaphone-1480342_640Same goes for you. You have a focus: is it selling your latest book? Promoting a diverse body of work? Look for opportunities in the interview to use those practised sound bites:

“Yes, it was a challenge writing the book. That’s why I’m gratified that so many bookstores have “My Book” on their bookshelves.”

See? Sell yourself. Easy peasy.

Did You Know: 

Ruth’s interview with Jules Carlysle will be broadcast on Rogers TV in Durham Region:

Tuesday, November 15 – 1:00pm, 4:00pm

Wednesday, November 16 – 10:30am, 12:30pm, 3:30pm

Thursday, November 17 – 11:30am

If you watch it, see if she managed to look calm or if her nerves betrayed her. Jules is a charming and excellent host and Ruth enjoyed the opportunity very much.

Secrets of a Good Radio Interview

Secrets of a Good Radio Interview

Gwynn Scheltema

The other day, this message came up on my Facebook stream:facebook-radio-cropped

northumberland-89-7Well, I may not have a word for that, but I do understand it. I’ve been interviewed as a writer several times on the radio, and I’m a co-host for a weekly radio program, Word on the Hills, that airs on Northumberland Radio 89.7FM. In the three years we have been running, I’ve learned a thing or two, and here’s the tips I have to offer:

Understand why are you doing the interview.

Why did the radio station ask you? Why did you agree?

Our station promotes all things local. We want to showcase people from our region doing interesting things. Word on the Hills narrows that focus to local people connected with the writing world. We love personal stories, relaxed chatter and slice-of-life humour is always welcome. We don’t just want to hear about the book. We want to hear about you. Your writing journey, your struggles, your triumphs. We want the human face on the book.

You are presumably looking at the interview as a promotional opportunity. But are you clear about what it is you want to promote? Yourself as a writer? An upcoming event? Your new book? All these things?

We are happy to be a promotional outlet for you, but you need to give us entertainment in return.

Arrive early

radio-1475055_640Before your program can air, we need to settle you in the studio, get you set up with your mic and test your voice quality. I like to go over the format with my guests and make sure all their questions are answered. Even if you are doing the interview by phone, we still need to prepare you and test the voice quality of the connection. At your end you need to minimize background noise and get comfortable.

 

 Understand the format

Our half-hour show is really 22 minutes. Done in two 11-minute segments. Occasionally we can go over that a bit, but we need to leave 5 minutes  at the start for news and weather updates and ads, and then a 3 minute ad break in the middle. Now consider that during the show, we need a couple of minutes up front to introduce the show and you our guest. At the end we need wrap-up time, and before and after the break we need to reacquaint listeners with what they are listening to. All that takes time too.22-minutes

What this means is that you really only have 8 to 10 minutes per segment devoted to you.Use it wisely.

Use your time wisely

The first step in using your time wisely is being prepared. We always offer our guests the opportunity to supply any questions they want to be asked. It’s a win-win that way. We know that you will be enthusiastic about your answer, and you will feel more in control and we will both be serving our goals.

If the radio station you are dealing with doesn’t make this offer to you, then make it to them.Or ask them what they will be asking you so you can come prepared. At the very least, arrive at the interview with some questions prepared in case.

town-sign-1699957_640Of course, hand in hand with that, make sure you prepare your answers. Don’t rote learn a script or plan to read. That is deadly! Instead know the points you want to make and practise talking about them out loud to yourself in a mirror, or with a friend or family member. Bring your notes with you. Radio is “blind” so no one will know you are using cues.

Most importantly, link whatever you talk about to what you want to promote. Almost any question can be steered to the topic you want to talk about provided you are clear about what that is.

Especially come with factual information written down. Event dates and times. Contact info. Website URLs. Not only will this help you remember during the interview, but it makes it easier for the radio host to echo the information because it’s handy.

Choose appropriate readings

If your interview will include readings, keep to short complete excerpts. Pick the same kind of things that you would for a live reading: funny bits, action and suspense. Not long descriptions or introspective musings. Make sure your piece is in context. If you have to supply a lead in, fine, but count it in the allotted reading time. If you are promoting your book, choose a bit that represents it so we get a flavour of the rest.

Always practise your readings out loud at a slower pace than the speed you talk. And time them. I’ve had to cut people off in mid-reading because the program was out of time. I’ve also edited recorded pieces so they will fit, and the author didn’t get a say in my edits.fel-gwynn

Although people love to hear stories, their listening focus isn’t very long. If you have been allotted more than 5 minutes of reading time, break your reading into two shorter pieces. And make them different. Leave them wanting more.

If you are reading from typed pages, bring them in plastic sleeves so they don’t rustle. If you are reading from a book, mark the pages so there is no dead air or mindless mumbling while you find your spot.

It’s all about you

The most important thing to remember is that this is about you—not the radio station, not the presenters—you! Take control. Know and push your agenda. Just do it in a way that pleases listeners, and you’ll have the radio hosts—and listeners—eating out of your hand. And with any luck, buying your book.

Have you ever been interviewed on radio? Any more advice to offer?

Up Close & Personal: Writer Jenny Madore

Up Close & Personal: Writer Jenny Madore

Jenny Madore pictureJenny Madore didn’t always know she wanted to be a writer. It took packing up husband and kids for a move to the rainforest of Panama for a year and a single copy of “Twilight” to nudge out the writer in her. Shifting from “I could write Bella into a better situation” to “I could write my own stories”, Jenny discovered her passion before moving back to Canada in 2008.

Now the author (J.L. Madore) of a self-published, urban fantasy series where alpha women kick butt and devour the gorgeous male warriors around them, Jenny is working on becoming a hybrid writer and breaking into the traditional publishing market. She is also in her second term as President of The Writers’ Community of Durham Region, a 280+ member umbrella organization that offers networking, promotion and education opportunities to its members.

Writescape caught up with Jenny this week to learn more about her as a writer:

What is the most important thing a self-published writer needs to consider?

That creative minds aren’t always the best prepared to tackle marketing, or websites, or newsletters. Points to self. The effective marketing of a novel once you’ve self-published takes a gazillion hours, dedication, and a thoroughness that some of us just don’t come by naturally. It can be learned, or hired out, but you have to identify your weaknesses and make allowances for them.

For example, I know I have to keep current content on my website to sweet-talk the algorithms of online booksellers and search engines, but when I pull up my website, my last post was for May 30th . . . of 2015. Yikes. If earning a living at writing was my goal, I’d be upset at how badly I drop the ball at times. Thankfully, writing is my goal. Growing as a writer. Improving. I’ll get back to marketing at some point. Maybe soon. Maybe not.

What does being a “hybrid writer” mean to you?

Honestly, I picture ‘Hybrid’ as being the best of both worlds but can’t say for sure . . . yet. What I like about the idea of straddling the indie and traditionally published worlds is the freedom of one, while coveting the guidance of the other. I’d like to work with house editorial staff and have people picking at the minutia of a story that they see hitting the mark of the ever-changing market. I want to grow. Know what they know. See the things they’re looking for in my own work for future reference.blaze-ignites-front-cover-promo-image

But not all stories are going to hit the appeal of publishing houses and that’s where indie rules. When I first wrote Blaze Ignites, I shopped it around first. I received rejections saying “great writing but fantasy is in a downturn,” or “Elves just aren’t sexy.”

Hello? Legolas Greenleaf isn’t sexy?

I beg to differ. That’s why I went ahead and independently published that series. I’ve got so many stories circling in my head, I want them out there entertaining people. Well, I hope they’re entertaining people.

What are you working on now and how different is it from the urban fantasy series you started out with?

female-316703_640I’m currently editing the finished first draft of a Roman time-slip historical romance. The working title is, In The Shadow, and I’m very pleased with how it’s shaping up. I found it very different to write historical, because it is an actual moment in time which has been documented and studied by academics and enthusiasts for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

I put a great deal of pressure and author responsibility upon myself to get the details right. Did a Praetorian wear a white toga or a violet one? What flowers bloomed in ancient Rome in 79CE? When would a patrician woman wear her hair down? What did the streets of Pompeii look like, sound like, and smell like before the eruption of Vesuvius?

The dialogue is crucial to selling the time period (Latin sentences often omit pronouns), as is the setting and, most importantly, how the love story evolves under the stresses and strains of a violent and unhindered society (Sin and shame are concepts which evolved much later in history).

The fantasy series I write allows me freedom to make things up to suit the story. As long as I justify what’s happening in the world, there’s really no wrong answer. It’s freeing and fun. Writing historical fiction offers me a sense of personal satisfaction I hadn’t realized before. When I get it right, it’s really right, and even if the reader doesn’t know it, I do.

How do you balance family life, the volunteer leadership role for a dynamic organization and your needs as a writer?

Balance is the operative word, though it has recently become easier. With my kids grown and newly establishingborg_dockingstation themselves out in the world as successful young adults, I’m finding my hours are my own for the first time in 23 years. As a full-time, at-home mother and wife, I became accustomed to working with crazy schedules and multi-tasking for the benefit of the collective.

We are Borg.

Those skills translate perfectly into running an organization like The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). I want the members to strive for their dreams and have what they need for success. That’s why I initiated Bookapalooza, Skip The Slush Pile Pitches, Blue Pencil Bonanza, Novel Whisperer, etc. I’m available to help if I can, organize events, make concessions if obstacles arise, and ask for help if things get complicated. I love the WCDR and its members. In my mind, the organization is simply an extension of family.

As for my writing . . . well, I’d like to say I set aside time every day, but that’s not always possible. The WCDR is an active, vital organization and when events approach, there is no end to the preparations to be made or work to be done. I can safely say, that I work on my writing often. Sometimes mornings. Sometimes nights. Sometimes just a few moments before I have to start dinner or leave for a meeting. Stories are always in the back of my mind, ideas, characters, and conflicts percolating until I can get back in front of my laptop.

Describe your favourite writing space — what does it look like?

Easy, (looks left and right). I’m on my bed, knees up with my laptop in front of me, a mass of pillows behind me, and a dozen reference books and novels scattered across my comforter and end table. Stryder, my Panamanian dingo dog I brought home from living in the rainforest, is lying beside me, snoring through his doggie dreams, the tip of his tongue slightly out. Perfection.

If you could have dinner with anyone (living, dead or fictional) who would that be?amy-sherman-palladino-02

Ooh, tough one. So many names come to mind for so many reasons. I think it would have to be Amy Sherman-Palladino, writer of Gilmore Girls. Not only is she quirky and odd, (which would make dinner a hoot), she wrote one of the greatest, wittiest, fastest paced, most-heart-warming collection of moments ever seen on television. (Newsroom and West Wing also in that category) The writing of Gilmore girls hits all my buttons: intelligent characters, flawed relationships, unconditional acceptance, family love, romantic love, loyalty, off-beat humour . . . the list is endless. Yep. Amy Sherman-Palladino for sure.

Wow, over so soon. Thank you, Writescape, for inviting me to participate, I had a blast. Annnnnd . . . are you arranging my dinner with Amy? I’m really looking forward to that now.

In Conversation with…literary agent Hilary McMahon

In Conversation with…literary agent Hilary McMahon

Hilary McMahonToday, we chat with Hilary McMahon, Executive Vice President of Westwood Creative Artists (WCA), one of Canada’s oldest and most respected literary agencies. Hilary maintains an extensive and diverse list of adult and children’s writers. She also represents WCA authors on trips to American and British publishers and the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs. 

Why did you become a literary agent?

I earned a degree in journalism and English, but soon realized that I wanted to read other people’s stories far more than I wanted to write or teach. I’m an obsessive book reader, an extrovert interested in people and relationships, and a tough negotiator with a head for details and numbers. This job allows me to combine all those different skills.                                                                                                    

books-20167_640 (1)Being an agent is a tough job. So what is it that has kept you in the field for more than 20 years?

Nothing compares to the magic of being engrossed in a great book. I love being part of the process that begins with an idea or rough manuscript, and ends with a finished product that can be shared, enjoyed, discussed around the world. And working with writers can certainly be challenging at times, but it’s never dull…

If we were to spend some time in a typical day with Hilary McMahon, what would it look like?letters-286541_640

That’s one of the many wonderful things about this job, there is no typical day! It’s an illusion that I read all day. Today for example, I have reviewed a section of an author’s revised novel and then shared it with an interested publisher, worked on some blurbs for our Frankfurt catalogue, checked a film contract and sent it off to the author, given a non-fiction author feedback on her proposal, spent time crafting a tactful rejection letter, done the deal memo for a middle-grade series I’ve just sold, addressed a picture book writer’s concerns about the illustrations for her new book, and followed up on some projects out on submission. I had hoped to make a dent into my towering pile of submissions but I don’t know if I’ll get to it…

What do you like to see in a query from a writer? And is it different for a fiction versus a non-fiction query?

You’d think it’s obvious, but I need to see excellent writing! A skillful, original, compelling pitch.

For fiction, you need to hook me with a brief description of the work and draw me in with a short sample. It certainly doesn’t hurt if you include some details about places you’ve been published and any relevant awards or education.

For non-fiction, your expertise in the field is going to be important, to me and to publishers – I need to know that you have some authority about your subject. Most simply, I need to be compelled to move from the query to a writing sample.

hand-861275_640What is the one piece of advice you want writers to know once they land that elusive agent?

That just because you have an agent it doesn’t guarantee your work will sell! There’s still a lot of hard work ahead, but at least you aren’t doing it alone.

What are you reading now and how do you feel about it?

I’m reading a really intriguing submission, clever and sparely written and definitely original in story and in the telling.  But I’m still trying to decide if it’s something that I could sell…

If time, place and money are no object, who is the one person or character you’d like to have dinner with…and why?Jane Austen

I’d love to have dinner with Jane Austen, after she’d spent a bit of time in 2016 – I would love to hear her take on this modern world!

Want to get up close and personal with one of Canada’s top literary agents? Come to our fall retreat, Turning Leaves 2016.

Hilary is our special retreat guest, joining us for meals, evening chats and sharing insights and expertise in a Saturday morning workshop on catching and holding an agent’s attention. She’ll also review Turning Leaves 2016 participants’ query letters in advance and hold private one-on-one feedback sessions.

 

Prenatal care for your book baby

Prenatal care for your book baby

Last fall, Orca Books published my debut novel Betting Game. I had nine months between signing a contract and delivering my book baby. It seemed like plenty of time. It wasn’t.

Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.

Start earlyPregnant woman with a journal

Next time I’m expecting a new book baby, I’ll sit down right away and make a plan of action.

What do I need to do, and when? How much time will it all take? What are my priorities?

Get organized

scrivener logo

Keep everything. Edits. Images. Ideas. Promo materials. Information from your marketing team. You will use, reuse, rework and re-purpose these files again and again, so find a logical way to organize them for easy retrieval.

Scrivener worked for me. I stored all the flotsam and jetsam in one project, using labels and keywords to make the project super-simple to view and search. Of course, you can also store everything traditionally in folders and subfolders. Just be sure to file and label wisely.

Sure, it takes a little longer to be meticulous, but it saves you time every time you need to find something. And bonus! The next time you publish, you have a ready-made road map instead of starting from square one.

Gather the building blocks

wooden block towerThe first items my publisher asked for were basic promo items: an author bioback-cover blurb and a professional author photo (more on author pics in a future post.)

I tucked these items in my Scrivener project, and as time went on, I added more elements:

I also collected a variety of links and bits of code:

Raise your profile

My memberships came in handy. I belong to national writers’ organizations like CANSCAIP, SCBWI, The Writers’ Union of Canada and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, and locally, to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. They offer a variety of promotional opportunities.

  • book and event pages
  • school visit and speaker pages
  • member profiles

You can also create author pages on GoodReads and Amazon.com, as well as social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Prepare these pages and profiles well in advance. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as uploading the same bio and photo to each site. But they all start with the same basic building blocks.

Don’t forget to update them along the way. I kept the most recent version of each profile in Scrivener. It was easier than viewing each website one by one. (Aren’t you glad you started Scrivener project or folder system now?)

Ways to work smarter

Front-end-load the tasks. For example:

  • write newsletter announcements and media releases early so they’re ready to go
  • prepare your website, blog and social media platforms so you can trickle out your good news

Make a book trailer

One of my best investments was Rich Helms’s Book Trailers 101. This 5-week workshop taught me the elements of a successful trailer, as well as the specialized knowledge to make one. Basic tech like how to use Animoto and Movie Maker. A bit of Audacity. Where to find reasonably priced voice talent, music and images. Tricks for uploading the final product to YouTube.

Step by step, my book trailer grew from concept to finished video. The weekly group critique helped me figure out what worked and what didn’t. I came out with more than a video. I also came up with strong tag lines and blurb text. Which, of course, I tucked away in my promo folder.

Book a launch dateBetting Game book launch

Book your launch as soon as you get a publication date. I launched Betting Game at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge. They’re one of Canada’s best independent booksellers. As a result, they get booked up quickly.

Like many indies, Shelley Macbeth and her staff really care about promoting Canadian books and authors. They gave me great advice and support. But that’s a post of its own!

Got any prenatal advice of your own for authors expecting their first book baby? Please share it below!