Great news: Our Friday night speaker, Deborah Reed will be featured on the NPR program On The Media. She’ll be talking about how she used a backdoor approach to obtain a 3-book publishing contract. You can hear her explanation first on Friday night at our reception. Also, her upcoming book Carry Yourself Back to Me now can be pre-ordered from amazon.com.
Last call to register for Summer in Words Writing Conference
When: June 24-26
Where: The Hallmark Inn & Resort in Cannon Beach
What: This year’s theme is Truth, Risk & Lies
Who: Our keynote speaker is award-winning author Cheryl Stayed
Why: It’s a great way for writers at all stages of their careers to hone their craft, network with fellow writers, and meet published authors and industry professionals with years of experience in their subject matter.
Expect: An emphasis on quality, not quantity; an intimate and welcoming conference so you’ll feel as if you belong; up-to-the-minute information on the publishing industry including how to land a book deal through a backdoor approach and what editors look for in submissions and queries; how to research publishers and agents; and then once you land a book deal, how to publicize your work.
Clincher: True value. The cost of registration ($245) includes workshops, three keynote addresses, two meals and Friday night reception, Out Loud—a chance to read your work to an audience, a bonfire on the beach, all in a beautiful setting on the Oregon coast overlooking Haystack Rock. Single day rates are also available. And did we mention it’s fun?
Instructors: Bill Johnson, writing guru. Jessica Morrell, author and editor, Randall Platt, prolific, award-winning author, Cheryl Stayed, author extraordinaire, Deborah Reed, hardworking author of two upcoming novels, Adam O’Connor Rodriguez, Senior Editor at Hawthorne Books, & Emily Whitman, author and wise goddess.
Summer in Words was founded by Jessica Morrell, developmental editor and author of five books for writers including Between the Lines and Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us, with 20 years experience helping writers succeed.
I first appeared with Adam on a panel about writing and publishing about four years ago and since have appeared with him on three more panels. From the beginning, I was impressed with his passion for words, his vast experience as an editor, and his work ethic. And he’s funny, in a droll sort of understated way. Hawthorne Books, where Adam is the Senior Editor, is an independent publisher that has published books such as Clown Girl by Monica Drake, The Chronicle of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, and four books by my hero of heroes, Poe Ballantine. And be still my heart, he’s working on two more books for them. And did I mention that their books are gorgeous and show the care they put into them?
Adam will be teaching a workshop at Summer in Words called What an Editor Wants on Friday June 24th. To read Adam’s short story The Red Side, go here. To read more about Adam and his approach to editing, go here.
Q: How do you think your life adventures such as riding far and wide on Greyhounds, make you a better writer and editor?
A: Spending as much time as I have riding ground transportation—about 250,000 miles over the past 15 years or so—has given me a lot of time alone to think and read and often write. Just like any experience that’s physically and mentally exhausting and boring—anything from war to jail to a dead-end job—riding Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains for thousands of miles gives me a clearer sense of my mind, I guess. It also allows me a different level of familiarity with the geography of this country. I’ve been everywhere here, so it’s hard to fool me with a fake dialect or regional inconsistency.
Q: How would you describe your ideal writer–as in one you’d want to publish at Hawthorne Books?
A: Most of Hawthorne’s authors are ideal writers, if being a writer is a temperament, not a vocation—they’re all extraordinarily cool, down-to-earth folks who understand that as a small press, we work really hard, much harder than large publishers on average, to get the work out there. As far as my ideal writing goes, I skew more experimental than the dominant aesthetic in Hawthorne’s catalogue, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy and love and champion every book we’ve published.
Q: What kinds of query letters grab your attention?
A: My school of thought on queries is that it’s best if they don’t grab my attention too much—“Hey, I’ve got this book. Check it out,” then launching right into page one of the text—to me, that’s a better query than a 15-page marketing plan. A writer capable of writing a coherent 15-page marketing plan is clearly a professional writer, but that doesn’t mean he or she can write creative work at all. My training and interest as a reader and editor is purely literary, though, so I probably don’t speak for most acquisition editors, who at this point are business professionals far more than creative professionals.
Q: What is the worst mistake writers can make when trying to get published?
A: Calling me on the phone to check in about a manuscript is the best way to make me hate your work before I’ve even read it. Sending a hasty email for the same purpose is a close second. Even if submission processes run slowly, they’re processes. It’s not like we won’t contact you if we want to publish your book. And if we don’t want to publish it, we’ll let you know as soon as we decide that, also. A related point: simultaneously submit all your work, even if presses and magazines tell you not to do so. If you’re lucky enough to get two hits on the same day for the same piece (you won’t be), an editor will understand if you have to withdraw the piece.
Q: What is your best advice to writers in ten words or less?
Revise, set aside, revise; repeat that process, then submit.
Q: Sushi or pasta?
A: You can’t ask a Libra a question like this. There’s an OK sushi place across the street from my apartment, so I probably eat more sushi, but I probably like pasta more. A really good version of either can be transcendent.
Q: What’s on your nightstand?
A: Some cups of water maybe, a lamp. I’m a terrible insomniac and I sleep different hours than my wife, so I keep what I’m reading on a shelf in the living room. Right now, it’s If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, one of my favorite “get you pumped to write” books about writing. Also, after every Memorial Day, I end up watching war documentaries and reading war books for a while, so Dispatches by Michael Herr is the one this year—I’ve read it several times before, and it’s absolutely the best piece of writing about war ever. And I keep trying to work through Freedom by Franzen, but I’m not finding the emotional connection to it that I have to some of his other work.
Q: What projects are you working on next?
A: For Hawthorne, I’m working on James Bernard Frost’s A Very Minor Prophet, a book I love that we’ll be releasing next year. Freelance, I’m working on a brilliant young adult novel by a debut author named Glen Carter. And the morning after the Summer in Words conference, I’m flying back to my hometown in Michigan to spend a month finishing work on a novel I’ve been working on since grad school.
Deborah Reed will be speaking Friday night, June 24th about how she recently landed a 3-book deal. Her talk is titled My Way: Truth, Risk & Lies. If you’re discouraged, burned out, and just plain confused, she’s got answers and insights that will show you the way. A Small Fortune will be published on July 19th and Carry Yourself Back to Me on September 20th. I’ve read them both and guarantee you’ll find yourself sighing with envy over the gorgeous language and story lines.
Q: Could you give us a preview of your Friday night talk and tell us a bit about how you chose a roundabout way to landing a book deal and why you did it?
A: Roundabout seemed my only option. The mindset of publishing over the last few years was (and still is to some degree) going mad, imploding really, at the time my then-agent was trying to sell my work. As a writer of fiction–the hardest genre to sell–I knew I could either go down with it, or take a risk and make something happen on my own. I’ve always been a do it yourself kind of person so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to pool my resources and take off. The moment I did I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom, calm, and control.
I was chastised more than once by my agent for making too many connections on my own, so I made even more in secret, and it was those secret connections that led me to a 3-book deal.
But there are many good reasons not to break out on one’s own in this way, and I will touch upon those as well.
Q: What is your best advice for someone who is frustrated at not being able to break into publishing?
A: You are not alone. Even the most published are frustrated with the hoops and changes taking place. Quality doesn’t always equal a publishing contract. It’s important to remember this. Becoming a published writer is not for the faint of heart. You have to keep pushing. There’s the old joke about what do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.
Most of all, keep writing, and don’t forget to read with the same amount of focus and passion you put into writing.
It’s also impossible to talk about publishing without talking about the writing itself, which is where one needs to live and breathe 99% of the time. I was offered a book deal at the same time I got accepted into an MFA program. For all of about 10 minutes I considered not attending the program. Becoming a better writer must be your biggest goal. Not writing well enough is, in my opinion, your biggest hurdle.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a writer and how do you tackle it?
A: From a pure working perspective, my biggest challenges seem to double as gifts. Having a family certainly makes it difficult to devote all the time and headspace I would like to devote to writing, while at the same time having a family makes for relationship dynamics that I often draw on in my writing. It’s within this realm of closeness with my children and husband that all the essential stuff of life gets played out–all the misfiring in communication, the good intentions suffocating another’s spirit, the tender hearts swelling with love, breaking a little, and healing, over and over and over.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for me is me. I’m self-critical and insecure about my writing. Sure, there are wonderfully warm moments when I feel on solid ground, but they are so damn fleeting. Success has not equaled security for me, and if you think it will for you I’m willing to guess you’ll be disappointed. One way I deal with this, at least in one half of my writing life, is something I started doing by accident–I use a pseudonym to write genre fiction. Taking on another persona has wildly resulted in confidence. My alter-ego Audrey Braun has taught Deborah Reed a thing or two about getting words on the page.
Q: What is your best advice to writers in 10 words or less?
A: As Richard Bausch likes to say, stay in the chair.
Q: Sushi or pasta?
A: Neither. I’m a fruit and veggies kind of gal.
Q: What’s on your nightstand?
A: A lot of dust. And Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale, and Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag.
Q: What project is next for you?
A: I have one year left of graduate school before I receive my MFA in creative writing so I will finish up with that, while I’m currently working on another suspense novel in the Audrey Braun series, which I hope will be out by summer 2012. I’m also working on a literary novel that I will use as my thesis. I like to keep a pile of balls in the air.
Each year I put a lot of thought into the theme for the conference and the people who are going to speak and teach workshops at it. There are so many talented writers out there, sometimes it’s hard to choose. But not all writers are great teachers or speakers, and not all speakers are great writers. So you’ve got to find people who combine both skill sets.
With all that in mind, an update on the career of Randall Platt. Her latest book Hellie Jondoe has just won four awards: the 2010 Will Rogers Medallion Award for WesternFiction-Young Adult, Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the ForeWord Reviews’ BRONZE medal for best Young Adult Fiction’s, and the 2010 Winner of the Willa Literary Award. A hearty congratulations to a hard-working writer (she’s often up before 5 A.M. folks, I have the e-mails to prove it). You can find more information at her web site and when you meet her at the conference.
You might also want to check out her tips 10 Changes I Made to Boost My Creativity at her site.