Sum Up The Story

Sum Up The Story

Ruth E. Walker

The manuscript is finished. You’ve edited until you can’t look at the words for one more minute. Your beta readers are all giving you the Thumbs Up. It’s ready to go out.

Then you see it. On the submissions page of the publisher you hope will publish your book. They want a synopsis. (Cue Jaws music.)

Good grief. You’ve perfected your manuscript. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Get over it. They want a synopsis and you have to produce one. So let’s cover the main points to help you pull it together.

Just the important bits

A synopsis is a kind of point-by-point outline of the story, summarizing what happens and who is changed by the end.

A synopsis is not a marketing tool but the first paragraph should offer a touch of a hook or any of the unique elements of the story. It’s not written like your novel yet it should hold a sense of your writing voice…your style…and the genre/style of the book. And just as important, it’s not a jacket blurb so be prepared to reveal the ending.

If a synopsis is interesting enough, agents and publishers will want to read the manuscript despite knowing the ending.

Short is sweet

For a novel, a synopsis can be as short as one page or as long as five pages. I recommend going shorter. Ideally, no more than two pages.  Unlike the manuscript, text is single spaced so you have a fair amount of room in those two pages.

To take full advantage of two pages, keep to the main story and the primary characters. You’re outlining the events but this is not a point-form summary. So your creative self needs to come through in how the synopsis is crafted. You can, for example, lift a slice of description or a touch of dialogue right out of the manuscript to use in your synopsis.

For example:  Mary is distraught by her husband’s perceived betrayal. “I’ve wasted years of trusting you!” Little does she realize that she is the one who betrayed them both.

Motivation + action = story

A synopsis needs to introduce the main characters, a touch of character(s) motivation and reveal conflict right from the beginning.

Don’t be coy—set the stage for the rest of the story:  Mary and Omar are the ideal couple, leaders in their rural community and a successful left-leaning political team. Newly re-elected mayor, Mary is confused when Omar opts to resign his council seat without telling her first. But when she discovers he’s involved with a far-right insurgency, she’s horrified and throws him out of their home. Then terrorists take a bus full of school children hostage and Omar is the only person they’ll negotiate with.

Subplots are not part of a synopsis but you can offer a single line or two if it matters to the main story.

For example: The themes of betrayal and loss are mirrored in a subplot involving school friends. In the same way, background or walk-on characters don’t need to be mentioned unless they are integral to the plot. As with subplots, keep it to one line: When the terrorist spokeswoman hesitates, she’s executed by the leader who then gives police 5 minutes before one of the children will be killed.

Zip up the ending

When you get to the ending, don’t short change your synopsis. Demonstrate how your ending has punch or significance: As Mary holds a dying Omar in her arms, she realizes her refusal to listen to the only man she’s ever loved cost him his life. Whispering into his ear, she promises to raise their unborn child with a true understanding of its father and his beliefs.

Check for basics

 There are several ways to tackle a synopsis. A simple approach builds it from listing the major turning points for your main character, then fleshing out a brief summary of the action at each point. Don’t forget to keep the whole narrative arc in mind as you work:

Inciting incident or the crack in the world of your main character that sets them off.

Rising action or the events that add tension and propel the story forward.

Climax or the point of excitement, ultimate change or Oh My God moment.

Resolution or the place that brings the story to a close.

There’s no perfect way to write your synopsis. But if you keep to these four elements, add in a dash of your writerly style and remember to focus on the main story, you should be well on your way to a compelling two-pager.

The Last Word: more synopsis resources

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis/ — examples and ideas on building a great synopsis.

https://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/15/clear-the-dread-from-the-dreaded-synopsis/— a detailed analysis of the how and why of synopsis. A long read but packed with things to consider once you’ve got the basics put together.

Fall for Workshops

Fall for Workshops

Ruth E. Walker

The autumn season is always a busy time: harvesting the last of the crops and taking in the warmth of daytime sun. We’re all aware winter is waiting in the wings.

For writers, this often means hunkering down into our writing space and getting serious about our projects. Maybe we start a new story or poem, review our plot and character arcs, or ready our works in progress for submission.

Getting serious can also include taking workshops, attending events or signing up for long-term courses. At the very least, getting serious means being open to learning something new about the business or craft of writing. In short, adding to your writer’s toolkit.

The British novelist Matt Haig (How to Stop Time, The Radleys and Reasons to Stay Alive) offers this about courses in creative writing:

To say that creative writing courses are all useless is almost as silly as saying all editors are useless. Writers of all levels can benefit from other instructive voices.

Matt Haig

Of course, you can find quotes from bestselling writers that will say the opposite–that you either have it or your don’t. Workshops won’t make any difference, etc.

But I side with Matt. We all have the ability to write, to shape ideas into words, to blend those words into sentences and put those sentences into a kind of order to say what we want to say. But even natural ability, dogged determination or unique vision will benefit when a writer focuses on the why and how of the craft.

Of course, I have an interest professionally in writers taking courses because I occasionally offer workshops. And I’ve seen first hand the discoveries and breakthroughs many of those participants have made in my workshops. But I also take workshops and attend writers events because I always learn something new. Every. Single. Time.

Ready, set…learn

For the next few weeks, I’ll be involved in several learning opportunities, either as a participant, organizer or instructor. This doesn’t include my biweekly meetings of Critical MS, an intense critique group where we all learn from offering and receiving feedback on our works in progress.

On September 28, I’ll be attending From Inspiration to Publication, a professionals panel of folks with publishing know how. The world of publishing has never been more interesting so I’ll want to understand more about self-publishing, audio books and co-operative approaches. Compare and contrast, as they say.

From Inspiration to Publication Saturday September 28

Located in Minden, Ontario, the morning panel discussion will be instructive with Scott Fraser from Dundurn Press, Shane Joseph from Blue Denim Press, Frances Peck from West Coast Editorial Associates and freelance writer and children’s author, Heather M. O’Connor. Author and journalist Jim Poling Sr. will moderate the panel.

In the afternoon, I take off my participant hat and put on my workshop facilitator hat to offer a hands-on workshop From Inspiration to Publication, running concurrently with the one-on-one sessions participants have booked with the panellists.

I know this will be a fantastic event because I’m also one of the volunteer organizers for the Arts Council Haliburton Highlands, Literary Arts Roundtable. Three hats. One event.

Travelling words

I’ll be back in Durham Region on October 17, meeting with the Sunderland Writers Group at the local library. I’m an invited guest, sharing some exercises along with writing tips and resources to support the launch of this new group.

On October 22, I’ll be offering a creative writing workshop for the Peterborough Library for their Try It Tuesdays program. Try it Tuesdays is meant to be a taster for anyone curious about creative writing. Experienced writers can challenge themselves in this workshop by going deeper with each of the exercises.

Laura Rock Gaughan

On October 23, I’ve organized an evening writing workshop at the Haliburton Library with author Laura Rock Gaughan. Laura was a resident artist at the Halls Island Artist Residency in Haliburton County (another of my volunteer organizations) and this workshop is part of her community project for the residency. As a side note, Laura is also the recently appointed executive director of the Literary Press Group, representing 60 independent publishers in Canada.

October 24 to 26, Gwynn and I will be in Cobourg at the Spirit of the Hills Festival of the Arts. The Festival is a celebration of sharing across the arts, and naturally Writescape will be there as participants and to showcase what we do.

Gwynn has worn several hats for this event too. She was an editor for the anthology Hill Spirits IV that will launch on the Saturday evening; as a co-host of Word on the Hills on Northumberland 89.7FM she has interviewed several of the participants in the festival line-up, and she was the judge for the poetry contest run by the festival. Even my son Piers will be performing in a play that was a winner in the playwrights contest.

Shelley Macbeth

On November 2, I’ll be at the Book Drunkard Festival in Uxbridge, Ontario, offering my half-day workshop, A Recipe for Great Characters. From October 17 to November 3, the Festival — a brainchild of the great Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books — celebrates all things bookish. As the website says: The festival captures the wonderment of the written word and its ability to intoxicate, transport and transform.

When winter comes, spring can’t be far behind…

Once you’re finished with all that hunkering down in winter, you’ll want to dig out and be inspired as nature comes back to colourful life.

Spring Thaw 2019

Join Gwynn and Ruth at Writescape’s Spring Thaw writers’ retreat April 17, 2020. Choose from 3 days, 5 days or 7 days to focus on your writing. The all-inclusive escape includes lakeside accommodation at Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake and all meals, as well as all taxes and gratuities.

One-on-one feedback sessions, daily workshops and group gatherings over the weekend combine with plenty of private time for writing and reflection. $250 deposit secures your spot at Spring Thaw 2020.

The Write Award

The Write Award

Ruth E. Walker

Awards. What writer would not want to win an award for their writing? After all, we write with passion and know that few of us will be compensated for the hours and hours we devote to our craft. So awards and grants are a welcome bonus. A recent article in the Toronto Star newspaper about Canadian writers of commercial fiction got me thinking about who wins the major book awards and who gets left out.

In Canada, we have some lovely prizes for fiction writers. Notable among them:

Scotiabank Giller Prize

Arguably, the “Giller” is the glitziest party with hefty prize money for the winner: $100,000. The four finalists each receive a very nice $10,000. The prize is awarded each year to a novel or collection of short fiction.

Governor General’s Award for Fiction

While the Scotiabank Giller prize is rich in monetary rewards, there’s no denying the cachet connected to the GGs, a national recognition of literary merit since 1936. Expanded over the years to the current seven categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, young people’s literature — text and illustrated — and translation. The Canada Council for the Arts hands out prizes for English-language winners and for French-language winners. 14 prizes in all, with writers, illustrators and translators receiving $25,000, their publishers receiving $3,000 and finalists receiving $1,000.

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Like the Giller, this prize is awarded annually to a novel or collection of short fiction. The $50,000 purse is impressive and finalists receive $5,000 each.

Canada Reads

Inspired by the one-book, one-community phenomenon, CBC launched Canada Reads where five diverse panellists each champion a book that they think all of Canada should read. There’s no prize money; however, finalists and winners have all seen significant increase in sales for their books. Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion sold 70,000 copies after being declared winner in 2002, fifteen years after it was first published.

There are also many regional, provincial and municipal awards for literary fiction. But where is the prestigious prize for popular, commercial fiction? Generally sponsored by writing associations and groups, genre fiction has some great prizes. For example:

According to Wikipedia, there are more than 50 literary awards in Canada for writers of adult and children’s fiction. In Canada, literary awards of serious prize money and prestige most often means serious fiction — elegant text, subtle layers of meaning, imagery and metaphor that bring us to tears with their beauty.

What about the joy of reading a terrific book? Commercial fiction, also known as “popular fiction”, is that book you can’t put down because the fascinating characters or plot are like musical earworms you cannot get out of your head. And the suspense or romance is pulling you along. There may be precious little imagery happening or subtle layering, but does that mean it is “less than” a literary gem anointed by a panel of literary judges?

I once taught a workshop where a participant was shocked that I referenced Stephen King as a strong and compelling writer. She once said a similar thing in her university English literature class and was shamed in front of her classmates by her prof’s seething rejection of “that hack.”

Victorian-era best-selling author Charles Dickens was considered to be a hack, I told her. And like Dickens, Stephen King’s work has found its way onto more than one postsecondary syllabus.

Of course, there’s also some satisfaction in King’s earnings as an author of popular fiction. But even bestselling Canadian authors of popular fiction are unlikely to find themselves on the Giller prize list or anticipating a nod for a GG.

Maybe we should take a page from the National Book Awards in the U.K.  Launched as the Popular Fiction Award in 2006 and now dubbed the Fiction Book of the Year, the shortlisted and winning books have included thrillers, romance and humour. Currently sponsored by a corporate giant in vision care, they are now known as the Specsavers National Book Awards.

Seems like a good idea to me. And I suspect our many popular fiction writers would agree.

Last Word

Ruth is delighted to confirm the Writer in Residence for the Arts Council, Haliburton Highlands is bestselling Canadian author of decidedly popular fiction, Susanna Kearsley.

Her latest book, Bellewether, is Haliburton Reads & Writes pick for The Big Book Club and readers are invited to join Susanna in Haliburton on September 15 to talk about Bellewether and ask Susanna questions about the book. The Big Book Club will be live streamed so that anyone can join in and participate in the discussion and Q&A. Check out the Facebook page for details.

Susanna’s books, published in translation in more than 20 countries, have won the Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize, RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, a RITA Award, and National Readers’ Choice Awards, and have finalled for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year and the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.

Publishing LGBTQ

Publishing LGBTQ

Gwynn Scheltema

June is Pride month, so this week I thought I’d take you on a short Canadian tour and introduce you to a few Canadian publishers who regularly publish LGBTQ books by Canadian authors.

Harlequin

First stop: Toronto. Head quartered in Toronto, Harlequin publishes around 100 titles a month. Yes, that’s right…100 books! They publish paperbacks, ebooks and audio books. One of their many niches is one they describe as “gay romance”. June 2019’s titles include a lesbian romance: New Ink on Life by Jennie Davids and a gay romance by Adriana Herrera, American Fairytale.

Submissions Guidelines

Arsenal Pulp Press

Out to the West coast now to meet this Vancouver publisher that regularly publishes LGBTQ work including books by Canadian authors S. Bear Bergman, Ivan Coyote, Amber Dawn, Vivek Shraya, and Kai Cheng Thom.  

They also have a series made up of out-of-print queer titles called “Little Sister’s Classics”. If that name sounds familiar, it’s likely because it reminds you of Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium, in the heart of Vancouver’s gay district on Davie Street. They have been around for years and were legendary in taking on Canada Customs to have gay literature declassified as porn.

In March this year, five Arsenal titles were nominated for the  Lambda Literary Awards, (writing prize for LGBTQ authors) The nominees were Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, Little Fish by Casey Plett, Sketchtasy by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn, and The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai.

Submission guidelines

Insomniac Press 

Back to Ontario—London to be precise. Insomniac Press has evolved over the last 25 years from a small press that published poetry chapbooks, to a medium-size independent press that publishes non-fiction titles as well as fiction and poetry sold in 40 countries.

Insomniac has also become known for its special niche areas like black studies, personal finance and gay and lesbian books. They publish two queer mystery series by writers Liz Bugg and Nairne Holtz. Insomniac’s anthology No Margins: Writing Canadian Fiction in Lesbian, features a whole host of LGBTQ authors.

Just released is Rinaldo Walcott’s book of essays Queer Returns.

Submission Guidelines

Metonymy Press

Heading over to Quebec, we find Metonymy, a newish Montreal-based press that publishes literary fiction and nonfiction by emerging writers. Their website explains: “We try to reduce barriers to publishing for authors whose perspectives are underrepresented in order to produce quality materials relevant to queer, feminist, and social justice communities.”

Two of their books were recently nominated for Lambda Literary Awards: Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang and Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom.

Submission guidelines

Talonbooks

And lastly, I want to head back to the West Coast to tell you about Talonbooks, because as well as literary fiction and poetry, they publish drama (including the amazing queer writer Tomson Highway), and translations of French texts, (including Quebecois lesbian author Marie-Claire Blais.) Recent publications include novels by Karen X. Tulchinsky and Gail Scott and poetry by Daphne Marlatt.

Last Word

If you are looking for more LGBTQ markets or books, here are two blogs you may want to check out:

10 Ways To Take Care of Business

10 Ways To Take Care of Business


Look for Writescape’s 10 on the 10th for writing tips, advice and inspiration on the 10th of every month. Think of it as Gwynn and Ruth sitting on your shoulder and nudging you along.

Being skillful as a writer is more than having your work published. It’s also linked to the business side of writing, how you conduct yourself, and how others perceive you. Creativity and professionalism are two sides of any successful writer. In fact, the more professionally you function, the more your muse will drop by to inspire you.

1. Track your submissions. Keeps you focused and prevents you from losing track of where that suite of poems actually got sent. You can follow up intelligently. It also keeps you professional in your head space. And come tax season, you have a record of your writing work. Use a simple table with headings (i.e., title of work / date sent/ where / response / payment) or set up a formal spreadsheet.

2. Keep a calendar. You can go wild and colour-code: conferences & workshops; critique group meetings; time spent researching; coffee with a colleague writer to talk about WIP, projects, etc.; time spent pitching articles; time spent editing. It’s all about a visual reminder of how hard you’ve been working at your craft. More than one calendar? Synch them. And it’s good business to have a paper copy as backup (but note #4 & #5.)

3. Have a logical folder system.   For both your computer and email, set up a system that works like your mind does. Being consistent helps you to file things quickly and, more importantly, to retrieve them. Same goes for naming conventions for the document files themselves. If you like to use dates, great. If alphabetical is your thing, go for it. Just be consistent. Group together files that make sense with subfolders: Writing: Poetry. Non-fic. Stories. Novels. Plays. Readings: Open Mics; Libraries; Book Stores…

4. Keep all expense receipts for sorting later. Better to keep them and throw them out when you have had a chance to decide if they are useful than to wish you had kept them. The tax department disallows any expense you can’t prove you paid for. For more on taxes see Deducting Convention Expenses.

5. Purge the paper as much as you can. Digitize what you think you might need and park it in the cloud. Look, we understand. Writers and paper just seems a perfect match. But with so much available online or able to download, why not just keep active the papers you need only as you need them? And when you’re done, scan what you must and pitch the rest.

6. Defrag. First focus on the computer to rearrange your files so that they are easier to find and things work faster for you. Kind of like tidying the linen closet. Then defrag yourself (see Writers Guide to Self Care & Your Anytime Writing Retreat) because you need to be in a good space for it all to achieve creative harmony.

7. Schedule professional development. A focus on your craft is more than creating elegant prose or memorable metaphors. It also involves taking in new ideas and perspectives. From intensive master classes to an afternoon speaker at the library, it’s all grist for the mill.

8. Subscribe to publishing and other professional magazines. Quill & Quire, Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, etc., will help you learn about trends, agents, markets and tidbits that can add up to your own savvy marketing plan. Paperless option: Subscribe to the online version. Budget option: Ask your local library if they can add a subscription to their magazines (if they do, remember to say thank you.)

9. Participate in social media. Choose at least one platform and then do it well — remember that calendar (#2)? Schedule social media time in it for at least 30 minutes once a week to post or tweet or comment. Keep it as simple as you like. There’s networking to be had on social media, markets to discover and learning to be absorbed. (Tip: social media can become an enticing sinkhole of limitless depth, so set a timer to climb back out if you need it.)

10. Constantly update your writing profile. Call it your full bio, literary CV (curriculum vitae), writing credits, or whatever you like. Just know that over time, it’s easy to forget the odd poem published, open mic you read at, or the workshop you attended or presented. And like a work resume, when you need it you usually need it fast.

Deducting Convention Expenses

Deducting Convention Expenses

Gwynn Scheltema

It’s that time of year we all look forward to….taxes!

As a tax preparer at an accounting office, I have noticed that over the last couple of years, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has been paying attention to convention expenses claimed, so I thought it might be useful to all you writers out there to spend a little time discussing writing conferences from a tax perspective.

That said, a caveat: The information and tips offered here are general information only. Your tax situation could be influenced by other factors not dealt with here, so if you are at all in doubt, contact your accountant or check out CRA’s website for more information.

Convention expenses

Let’s pretend that you attended a convention in Toronto, one in the Caribbean and one in USA in 2018. Can you deduct them on your tax return?

Like most tax questions, the answer is “maybe”.

What does CRA say?

“You can deduct the cost of attending up to two conventions a year. The conventions have to meet the following conditions:

  • relate to your business or your professional activity
  • be held by a business or professional organization within the geographical area where the organization normally conducts its business”

Business or professional activity

Let’s unpack point #1: it must relate to your “business” or your “professional activity”.

Professional activity refers to income earned from a profession that is regulated by a governing body (sets rules of compliance, etc.). Typically profession refers to accountants, lawyers, doctors and the like.

For writers, the operative word here is “business”.  Being in business as a writer means you have gone beyond being a “hobbyist”.

Generally, a business is any undertaking that results in profits or has a reasonable expectation of profits within a reasonable time. CRA, however, does recognize that the nature of art and literature is such that “in the case of artists and writers it is recognized that a longer period of time may be required in establishing that such reasonable expectation does exist.”

To determine if you are running a writing small business or if you are a hobbyist, CRA considers 12 factors that speak to reasonableness of profit expectation. Factors include the amount of time devoted to writing, representation by an agent or publisher, the extent to which your work is presented to the public, promotion of your work and the kind of income derived (royalties, grants, etc.). You can check out the full list at the link at the end of this post.

Geographical area

Unpacking point #2: “within the geographical area where the organization normally conducts its business”

Gwynn presenting at a Government Correspondence Conference

As nice as it might be, travelling to a far-flung exotic location for a conference may render the expense of it non-deductible. It all depends on whether a location is within the territorial scope of the sponsoring organization. For instance, The Ontario Writers’ Conference would be expected to hold its convention in Ontario. The Writers’ Union of Canada could hold it anywhere in Canada. Romance Writers of America although head quartered in USA, might hold a conference anywhere in the world that it has RWA branches.

Fortunately, under the Canada-United States Tax Convention, expenses incurred by a Canadian resident or citizen attending conventions held in the USA are treated as if the conventions were held in Canada.

CRA definitely will not accept expenses for conventions held on cruise ships, even if the ship travels between Canadian and US ports or two US. ports. Why? Because the sea is considered international territory.

What can you write off?

Presuming you (and the convention) qualify under the two points mentioned above, you can deduct:

  • Convention fees
  • Travel expenses
  • Lodging expenses
  • Meals to a limit of $50/day

If the convention fees include the cost of food, beverages, or entertainment, but do not show it separately, you are required to deduct $50 for each day from the convention fee and claim it separately as meals and entertainment (where other limits will apply).

Example

Convention costs are $500 for 2 days, meals included.

Subtracting $50/day for meals makes the adjusted convention fee $500 ‑ ($50 x 2) = $400.

Additionally, claim the $100 meals and it will be subject to the usual 50% limitation, and end up as a $50 deduction.

Note: Incidental items such as coffee and doughnuts available at convention meetings or receptions do not count as meals.

Up to two conventions

Image result for ontario writers conference
Ruth presents in Moose Factory

So what about your three writers’ conference I mentioned earlier? Okay, so right off the bat, you are limited to two. Assuming all three qualify as allowable conventions, use the ones most advantageous to you. Those might be the most expensive, or if one of them is not closely related to your writing activities, you may be safer to go with the two cheaper ones that are.

Useful links:

Other Top Drawer tax blogs

Librarians & Self-published Authors

Librarians & Self-published Authors

Ruth E. Walker

Recently, I sat in a planning meeting for a writers’ event and the topic of self-published authors came up. The group was considering offering a workshop to help self-published authors produce a better product.

Among our group of planners is a librarian, and she sat quietly while we brainstormed a possible workshop.

After a few minutes, she offered some careful comments. “Our library system has a mandate to have the self-published books of local residents on our shelves. But often they don’t make it easy for us.”

How so, we wanted to know.

“An ISBN for one,” she offered. “At least then we can process it for cataloguing. And binding! Spiral binding is a real challenge to label. And some binding falls apart.”

The self-published authors in her community are fortunate to have a library system open to their books. Many larger libraries have no such mandate to guarantee local books on their shelves.

Wooing the libraries

In 2017, the Toronto Public Library (TPL) had more than 17.3 million visits to their 100 branches. That’s a lot of readers, so getting your book on those shelves would be pretty amazing. But you better have a polished and professional product to interest their collection department in purchasing your book.

Besides the usual information–title, author’s name, type of binding, etc., the TPL Collection Department needs your book to have, among a number of things, the following:

  • ISBN (International Standard Book Number) Canadian authors of self- published books can get their ISBN for free through Library and Archives Canada.  (You know, that barcode and number thingie on the back cover of books – it identifies the book and the publisher.) The ISBN is necessary if you want your book sold in bookstores, to libraries or through online retailers.
  • a brief summary of the book’s contents (they emphasize “brief” so keep it short — like a synopsis, one page at most is best.) Read the inside jacket of successful books for ideas. Here’s a great example from HarperCollins Publishing’s Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard:
    • Girl Mans Up is a brave and authentic debut…In Pen, Girard has create a kick-ass character who makes tough choices, has her friends’ backs, and is done feeling bad about who she is. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth–in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up.
  • why your book would be of interest to TPL patrons (this is your sales pitch so think this one out carefully.) Again, I turn to Girl Man’s Up — this time a review, but it captures some of why a public library would want this book — to reach young, diverse readers:
    • This is a fresh title in the growing sea of LGBTQ YA literature. Pen and her peers are neither quirky nor whimsical… There is no sugarcoating in this very real portrayal of an aspect of teen life that many experience.

You can find these details and more on the TPL website.

But getting your book on the shelves of libraries is more than having an attractive cover, good binding and an ISBN on the jacket. The stuff inside has to be professional as well. That includes layout, thorough proofreading and fact checking and, of course, a book’s contents edited for structure, continuity, style, and story and character arcs.

But that, as they say, is for another blog from our Top Drawer. Stay tuned.

The Last Word

There’s still time and a few spaces left in our April writers’ retreat, Spring Thaw 2019. Bring that work in progress and devote a weekend or more to feeding your muse. All-inclusive means you can focus on writing and let the creative juices flow.

Choose from the 3-day or 5-day options. Workshops, one-on-one consultation, group sessions, full resort amenities and fine dining at Elmhirst’s Resort. Stay in your private bedroom in cozy lakeside cottages. For more than 10 years, it’s been a true escape to write…with Writescape.

Moving on…grammatically speaking

Moving on…grammatically speaking

Gwynn Scheltema

According to the Global English Monitor, as of January 1, 2019, the English language boasts 1,052,010 words. Apparently, we can thank The Bard for 1700 of those: addiction, assassination, bedazzle, cold-blooded, fashionable and managerare among them. And every 98 minutes another word is added. That’s almost 15 words a day! English is anything but static.

When I was working in communications for the provincial government, we regularly had meetings to discuss what was new and what had gone out of style in accepted grammar and usage. Sometimes, it got quite heated in those meetings, which just proves how strongly professional communicators feel about word usage. A lot of the discussion was around acceptable word choice, like persons with disabilities vs. disabled persons, or First Nations vs. Aboriginal.

But grammar, formatting and punctuation also made it onto the agenda. When proportional spacing became the norm on word processing programs, the double space after a period became a single space (standard now in all ms submissions). When emails were the new thing on the block, we had to refer to them as e-mail messages. Later we dropped the second word and they became e-mails. Still later, we dropped the hyphen and adopted the word email.

So when does a rule start or stop?

For the English language, there is no one body that decides. Our language is a living entity, changing over time. That’s what makes it so rich. While I firmly believe in “correct grammar” for clarity, I accept that sooner or later rules I hold sacred may indeed change. And that’s okay. It’s all a matter of common usage.

The grammar “rule” that I notice most lately is the changing use of the default pronoun.

The old default pronoun

The rule I learned was to use “he/his/him” as a default pronoun when talking in general terms, as in: “A journalist should always guard his sources.”

I like to believe that writers today know the importance of and support a less gender-based, less sexist approach to our language. So it makes sense to stop using “he” as the default pronoun. The question then becomes: what do we replace it with?

Substituting “she/her” is equally sexist. Flipping between “he” and “she” in the same piece of work would be altogether confusing.  “He/she” is cumbersome. “It” loses the human connection. “One” is acceptable, but sounds like an old-fashioned lecture.

Some people prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns created specifically for the purpose, such as ze, sie, hir, co, and ey, but I haven’t seen much evidence of their use.

The new default pronoun

More and more each day “they/them/their” is emerging as the new default even in singular situations: “A journalist should not reveal their sources.”

Now before you get your knickers in a knot over it, using “they” in this way is nothing new. It appears in Old English from 600 years ago. Here’s a line from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, ca. 1400:

And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,
They wol come up […]”

And if you are interested in the history of the singular “they” through history right from 1375, read this post from the OED website.

I do admit, using a plural pronoun for a singular is something that I still have to get used to, but I see its value, and as imperfect a solution as it may be, it’s the only viable one we have right now.

Is singular “they” really acceptable?

In business situations here in Canada, The AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style are generally the go-to authorities. Here is what they have to say:

AP Stylebook (2017 edition)

“They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.”

For example, to avoid the specificity of an individual’s gender, this use of their is acceptable: “The employee believed their position was in jeopardy.”

Chicago (17th edition)

 “While this usage [they, them, their, and themselves] is accepted in those spheres [speech and informal writing], it is only lately showing signs of gaining acceptance in formal writing, where Chicago recommends avoiding its use. When referring specifically to a person who does not identify with a gender-specific pronoun, however, they and its forms are often preferred.”

What’s a writer to do?

My first inclination is to structure your sentence so you don’t need to make the choice. Make the whole sentence plural: “A journalist should protect their sources” becomes “Journalists should protect their sources.”

That said, if it is more respectful to do so, use “they” as a singular pronoun. Make sure you match your verbs correctly though: “They are visiting.” Not “They is visiting.”

For business writing, follow your accepted style guide.

For fiction, you have control, but consider your audience and genre. Strive for unobtrusive choices and good flow, and of course, consistency.

Last word

Above all, be aware and don’t fight grammatical change just because you don’t like it or you learned something a different way. Remember, our language lives and breathes and changes all the time. Contractions (don’t; isn’t; can’t; shouldn’t) were once considered uncouth, but now we all use them.

And remember, we can thank writers for opening up the English language to new rules and new words. From Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene I: “Where is our usual manager of mirth? What revels are in hand? Is there no play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”

Thanks, Will.

Romance: sweet or sizzling?

Romance: sweet or sizzling?

Gwynn Scheltema. 

Many years ago, as a beginning writer, I decided that the easiest fiction to write was romance. After all, I reasoned, it was shallow and formulaic. It would be easy.

So one summer, I conducted an experiment. I ordered four books in four different imprint series from Harlequin and read them all over July and August. I figured that by the end of summer, I would have that formula down pat!

Dead wrong!

I was wrong. Romance books are not shallow and formulaic. To be sure, they do follow an underlying expectation that the hero and heroine will get together in the end, but that’s where the formula ends.

They span many genres: mystery, suspense, historical; the plots are varied and complicated; the settings global; the characters believable and fascinating. And the writing was, for the most part, good. Some books were stronger than others for me, but I can say that about any genre I read. I realized very quickly that I would have to learn a whole lot more before I ever… if I ever… tackled a romance novel of my own.

Digging Deeper into Romance

red valentine graphicSo where do you go to find out more about the genre? The Romance Writers of America, (RWA) website gives a good overview of the genre as well as information on the romance sub-genres. They describe themselves as “dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.” There you can also find information of RWA chapters throughout North America including Canada, where you can meet other romance writers and attend workshops and conferences.

Sweet, saucy or sizzling?

One of the things I learned from my experiment was that not all imprints are the same. Some were sweet and innocent, some were downright racy. I wondered if I would ever be able to  write the sex scenes effectively and how to know how much was enough or too much.

Harlequin, the world’s largest publisher of romance, provides clear, detailed guidelines on their website for each of their imprints, from the word count to the level of sexual content. For example, Blaze editors ask for sensuous, highly romantic, innovative stories that are sexy in premise and execution. The tone of the books can run from fun and flirtatious to dark and sensual. Writers can push the boundaries in terms of explicitness…an emphasis on the physical relationship…fully described love scenes along with a high level of fantasy, playfulness and eroticism BUT not erotica. The Blaze line must still uphold the Harlequin promise of one hero and one heroine and an implied committed relationship in the end.

Unagented submissions

Some of Harlequin’s imprints require agent representation, but unagented submissions are welcomed for Harlequin Series. Harlequin Series Books (aka “Series Romance” or “Category Romance”) publishes more than 85 titles each month over a wide range of genres.

Your romance

Want to give writing romance a try?

This infographic from Harlequin’s website will help you decide where your romance fits in their imprint series.

Harlequin infographic



Did you know…

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Copy that! January Update

Copy that! January Update

In 2018 our Top Drawer blog Copy That! explained the situation with the ongoing court battle in Canadian courts over creative rights. We then updated you on the Review of the Copyright Act and brought you an update. As we enter 2019, here is the latest update as emailed to creatives by Access Copyright:


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I’ve spent a large part of my professional life at Access Copyright. I’m often asked by publishers and creators what keeps me going, especially through the challenging times.

The answer is simple: it is my privilege to work on behalf of Canadian creators and publishers to make sure their rights and the value of their work are both recognized. In the last few years, workplace gurus have talked a lot about the importance of alignment between your personal values and your work. I feel like I’ve been blessed; this is meaningful work and I cannot imagine doing anything else.

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Late last year, I testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for the Study of Remuneration Models for Artists and Creative Industries. I had the honour of being accompanied by one of Canada’s most prolific Young Adult writers, Sylvia McNicoll. Please take a moment to hear her opening statement before the Committee.

During the question period, one of the MPs asked if there might be a middle ground, a way to protect writers and ensure learners in the public sector have access to high quality materials, given limits to funding.

It’s a question I’ve heard (and answered) many times. Sylvia’s response below truly gets to the heart of the issue.

Ms. Sylvia McNicoll:
     I think it’s just obvious that immediately tariffs have to be enforced [1]. That was never a compromise, to say that you could have an educational exemption and not pay anything. That’s full-handed giving them free….

    This has been going on for close to five years. Different schools opted out at different times. They believe now that they are entitled. It will be very difficult. They have no knowledge of ever paying for photocopying or for digitally reproducing materials.

    We need to get the fines, the tariffs, in place, and then we need to rein in this exemption.

Ms. Roanie Levy:
    If I could add something, the system of collective licensing was created precisely so that the entire book doesn’t have to be bought all the time. It provides that means of accessing without having to pay the full price of all books all the time for every student.

     It’s also important to keep in mind—because I think that because of all of the noise we hear about this and all of the efforts that are made to evade having to pay—that we have the sense we’re talking about incredible sums. In the elementary and secondary sector, we’re talking about $2.41 per student per year. Then they could do the copying of their chapters and their 10% to their heart’s content. It’s $2.41 per child per year, and the ministers are still not paying.

    In post-secondary, at most we are talking about $26 per student per year. It’s the price of a pizza. In college, we are talking about $10 per student per year. We’re not talking about sums that would bankrupt anyone, that would add any true additional burden on students whatsoever.

Ms. Sylvia McNicoll:
    May I add that while it’s just a pizza for them, it’s my mortgage, my groceries, and it’s my car payment. Right now, it’s my dental bill.


[1] Since 2012, educational institutions outside of
Quebec have refused to pay royalties under tariffs certified by the Copyright
Board of Canada. This action has deprived creators and publishers of an
important source of income. For example, under the current elementary and
secondary schools tariff, this non-payment results in an annual loss of $9
million in royalties for the copying of published works by K-12 schools.



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Canadian creators and publishers have suffered under the education sector’s copying policies and practices. I believe politicians and policymakers in Ottawa understand the unintended, negative consequences the 2012 changes to the Copyright Act have brought about.

Now, as they prepare their report and recommendations, I hope they’ll remember Sylvia – and the thousands of writers and publishers who are in the same predicament – looking to make their next mortgage payment, book a dentist appointment or pay for groceries.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The licence costs are minimal, but the resulting royalty payments make a significant and meaningful difference to Canada’s creators and publishers.

Sincerely,

Roanie Levy
President & CEO
Access Copyright

Access Copyright files submission to the Heritage Committee as part of its Remuneration Models for Artists and Creative Industries study

The submission outlines how copying policies enacted by the education sector after the passage of the Copyright Modernization Act have had serious consequences for creator and publisher income levels and proposes four concrete actions to address this critical issue:
• Amend the Fair Dealing Exception to distinguish between individual and institutional copying;
• Introduce the Artist Resale Right;
• Harmonize statutory damages available to collectives;
• Confirm tariffs set by the Copyright Board are and have always been mandatory.
Our submission can be found here.

Access Copyright teams up for joint Copyright Act review submission

In December, Access Copyright was one of 34 organizations that came together to form The Partnership for the Future of Canadian Stories to represent those who create, read and care about Canadian stories. Collectively, the Partnership prepared an evidence-based analysis to correct misleading claims put forward by opponents of effective copyright to members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Economic Development, and the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

In December, the submission was filed with both the INDU and the Heritage Committees. Read it here.

The Partnership makes two recommendations to address the current reality facing creators and publishers and their ability to be fairly compensated for the educational use of their works:
• Clarify that fair dealing does not apply to educational institutions when the work is commercially available;
• Harmonize statutory damages available to collectives.

Lend your voice to support Canadian creators and publishers during the Copyright Act review

When creators speak, politicians listen. It’s important we remind the Heritage and INDU Committees of the negative consequences of the 2012 changes to the Copyright Act. It is also vital that they continue to hear this message while they write their final reports.

With this in mind, the I Value Canadian Stories coalition will launch a new letter on the I Value Canadian Stories website the week of January 21. We’ll send an email when it’s ready. It will take no more than two minutes to visit the site and send your letter in support of Canadian creators and publishers.

In case you missed it…Last fall, the I Value Canadian Stories campaign shone the spotlight on Canadian writers and visual artists. Check out the site’s Videos page to learn more about the work of creators like Andrew Pyper, Amy Stuart, Sky Gilbert, David Chariandy and Jennifer Mook-Sang.

Negative consequences of the Copyright Modernization Act in the media

Recently, CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition (hosted by Michael Enright) and CBC’s The National covered declining incomes for Canadian creators and publishers. The segments addressed the unintended consequences of the Copyright Modernization Act for both communities.