Interview with novelist Mike Lawson

With our summer workshop fast approaching, we wanted to give you an opportunity to learn more about our faculty. Introducing Mike Lawson — political thriller novelist …
Lawson

Q: What was it like to switch to a writing career after 30 years of other employment?

I write full time now – meaning four or five hours a day.  Before I was published, I worked ten or twelve hours a day (on the good days) and was responsible for the maintenance of reactor plants in U.S. navy ships at half a dozen naval bases on the West Coast. To say the job was intense is an understatement, and the consequences of failure were enormous.  By comparison, writing is a walk in the park, and every time I hear writers whine about how they “suffer” for their art and complain about the ardors of writing, I have to wonder if they ever had a real job. (Like being a mother or a teacher – those are real jobs) I LOVE to write – it’s like having a hobby I’m getting paid for.

 

Q:  Your MWW Intensive Session also includes working with agents, book promotion and other publishing business topics. How will the session help authors who don’t write thrillers? (It’s been said every genre needs to know how to write page-turners.)

I think you hit on it. Regardless of the genre they write in, I think unpublished writers and even writers searching for a new publisher or agent, may benefit from my experience on the “business” side – dealing with agents, editors, publishers, contracts, marketing, etc.  Second, I think good books, regardless of the genre, all have certain things in common, such as well-crafted characters, a believable and fast-moving plot, and a style that keeps the reader engaged. Writing is so subjective that my opinion on these topics may not resonate with everyone in the class, but I’m hoping it will be beneficial to others whether they’re writing mysteries, romance, young adult, or whatever.

Q:  Were writers’ conferences an influence on your career? If so, how?

I’ve found writing conferences beneficial in a number of ways. I’ve met booksellers who’ve promoted my books not only because they like them but because, thanks to the conferences, I’ve established a personal relationship with them. The same could be said for critics I’ve met at conferences.  I’ve obviously learned from other writers at conferences by listening to what they had to say on a particular subject. I’ve met big-name writers and when my publisher asked them to “blurb” the next book, I again think that having a personal relationship with them (translation: a drink in the bar) helped. And lastly, conferences are fun!

Q:  What are three tips for those who might be career-changers looking to break into writing novels as you’ve done?

Tip number one – the biggest tip – is: Be persistent. Getting published is about having talent – and talent is something so subjective there’s no point in trying to define it – being lucky – and there’s nothing you can do about luck – and lastly, being persistent – which you can do something about and which means you keep trying until you finally succeed. (It took me a long time to get my first book deal.)

Second tip: Read. I’m always astounded when I meet writers who aren’t readers, particularly writers who don’t read in their own genre. You can learn more from reading good writers than almost anything else if you think about what the writer is doing as you read.

Last tip: write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen or twenty minutes. Like anything else, you get better at it the more you do it, and no matter how busy you are, you can carve fifteen or thirty minutes out of your day to write.  I wrote my first two novels in half-hour blocks of time on the ferry I used to take to commute to work.

Q: What else would you add for the MWW participants?

Well, I guess I could add a whole bunch of stuff, but I’m saving that for my sessions at the conference.

 

Lawson cvrMike’s recent novel is House Divided, which will be released July 2011.

 

“A great novel from a great author! Lawson goes for broke in this Machiavellian thriller, where Washington power brokers take on elite super spies with one rather perplexed Joe DeMarco trying to outwit-and outlast-the carnage. Equal parts funny, clever and cool, this book will make your heart race and your mind ponder.” -Lisa Gardner, New York Times best-selling author of Live to Tell

“Lawson’s House Divided is a non-stop thrill ride. The author has created a disturbingly real Washington D.C. and peopled it with eerily familiar characters. He writes with wit and verve and displays a shrewd understanding of bureaucratic irony. Thoroughly enjoyable. The political thriller of the year.” -John Lutz, New York Times bestselling author of Urge to Kill and The Night Caller

Meet publicist Dana Kaye

We’re pleased to have a publicist join our 2011 MWW faculty!

Dana KayeAfter graduating from Columbia College with a BA in Fiction Writing, Dana worked for a few years as a freelance writer and book critic before deciding to move to the other side of the press kit. She signed her first client in February of 2009, and by the end of the year, she represented 30 authors.

Q:  What exactly are the services your business offers?

I work with authors to expand their name recognition, build their brand, and increase sales. I do this through booking radio/TV interviews, obtaining print media coverage, executing social media campaigns, scheduling book tours, and occasionally, guerilla marketing. There are 3-month, 6-month, and year-round campaigns depending on the project. I prefer working with authors year round because I can continually shape their brand and find new opportunities for them. I currently represent mostly crime fiction authors, but am also looking to expand my client list with literary fiction and creative nonfiction.

Q: What are some reasons an author would hire a publicist instead of relying on their publisher and their own efforts?

Most in-house publicists have dozens of books on their list each month. There simply isn’t enough time/budget to give each book attention. I work to fill in the gaps left by the in-house publicist. Additionally, an in-house publicist works for the publisher. I work for the client. I have more freedom to take risks and experiment with new marketing techniques.

Q: What are some of the topics you will cover at MWW?

In my first session, I will teach authors how to position themselves in the market. Agents and editors are concerned with platform and how the book will be marketed. I’ll show aspiring authors how to build their platform so they’re more marketable to agents and editors.

Q:  Who are a few of your clients and how have you promoted them?

I worked with Mike Lawson, one of the featured authors at the MWW, to increase his online presence. I booked dozens of blog reviews, increased his web presence, and set up his Twitter account. I also work with Marcus Sakey Two deaths(2010 MWW faculty member), Jamie Freveletti, and Bryan Gruley. Running coverWith each of them, I played up their unique platforms to obtain coverage in “off market” publications. For example, Hanging tree cvrBryan’s Starvation Lake series is set in Northern Michigan where hockey is a way of life. We obtained coverage on a handful of hockey blogs as well as Blue Line radio.

 

Q: What are some tips for authors attending the conference?

Treat the conference as a learning experience. Don’t be so concerned with meeting the agents and delivering the perfect pitch. Strike up conversations at meals or in the hallway, you never know who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn.

Meet thriller author Mike Lawson

With our 2011 summer workshop fast approaching, we wanted to give you an opportunity to learn more about our faculty. Introducing Mike Lawson — political thriller novelist …
Lawson

Q: What was it like to switch to a writing career after 30 years of other employment?

I write full time now – meaning four or five hours a day.  Before I was published, I worked ten or twelve hours a day (on the good days) and was responsible for the maintenance of reactor plants in U.S. navy ships at half a dozen naval bases on the West Coast. To say the job was intense is an understatement, and the consequences of failure were enormous.  By comparison, writing is a walk in the park, and every time I hear writers whine about how they “suffer” for their art and complain about the ardors of writing, I have to wonder if they ever had a real job. (Like being a mother or a teacher – those are real jobs) I LOVE to write – it’s like having a hobby I’m getting paid for.

Q:  Your MWW Intensive Session also includes working with agents, book promotion and other publishing business topics. How will the session help authors who don’t write thrillers? (It’s been said every genre needs to know how to write page-turners.)

I think you hit on it. Regardless of the genre they write in, I think unpublished writers and even writers searching for a new publisher or agent, may benefit from my experience on the “business” side – dealing with agents, editors, publishers, contracts, marketing, etc.  Second, I think good books, regardless of the genre, all have certain things in common, such as well-crafted characters, a believable and fast-moving plot, and a style that keeps the reader engaged. Writing is so subjective that my opinion on these topics may not resonate with everyone in the class, but I’m hoping it will be beneficial to others whether they’re writing mysteries, romance, young adult, or whatever.

Q:  Were writers’ conferences an influence on your career? If so, how? 

I’ve found writing conferences beneficial in a number of ways. I’ve met booksellers who’ve promoted my books not only because they like them but because, thanks to the conferences, I’ve established a personal relationship with them. The same could be said for critics I’ve met at conferences.  I’ve obviously learned from other writers at conferences by listening to what they had to say on a particular subject. I’ve met big-name writers and when my publisher asked them to “blurb” the next book, I again think that having a personal relationship with them (translation: a drink in the bar) helped. And lastly, conferences are fun!

Q:  What are three tips for those who might be career-changers looking to break into writing novels as you’ve done?

Tip number one – the biggest tip – is: Be persistent. Getting published is about having talent – and talent is something so subjective there’s no point in trying to define it – being lucky – and there’s nothing you can do about luck – and lastly, being persistent – which you can do something about and which means you keep trying until you finally succeed. (It took me a long time to get my first book deal.)

Second tip: Read. I’m always astounded when I meet writers who aren’t readers, particularly writers who don’t read in their own genre. You can learn more from reading good writers than almost anything else if you think about what the writer is doing as you read.

Last tip: write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen or twenty minutes. Like anything else, you get better at it the more you do it, and no matter how busy you are, you can carve fifteen or thirty minutes out of your day to write.  I wrote my first two novels in half-hour blocks of time on the ferry I used to take to commute to work.

Q: What else would you add for the MWW participants? 

Well, I guess I could add a whole bunch of stuff, but I’m saving that for my sessions at the conference.

Lawson cvrMike’s recent novel is House Divided, which will be released July 2011.

 

“A great novel from a great author! Lawson goes for broke in this Machiavellian thriller, where Washington power brokers take on elite super spies with one rather perplexed Joe DeMarco trying to outwit-and outlast-the carnage. Equal parts funny, clever and cool, this book will make your heart race and your mind ponder.” -Lisa Gardner, New York Times best-selling author of Live to Tell

“Lawson’s House Divided is a non-stop thrill ride. The author has created a disturbingly real Washington D.C. and peopled it with eerily familiar characters. He writes with wit and verve and displays a shrewd understanding of bureaucratic irony. Thoroughly enjoyable. The political thriller of the year.” -John Lutz, New York Times bestselling author of Urge to Kill and The Night Caller

Q & A With agent Roseanne Wells

Roseanne Wells, Marianne Strong Literary Agency
Wells Roseanne headshotQ: If someone has an appointment with you, what should they bring?

I like to talk with the person and hear the verbal pitch (2-3 sentences), and I will read either the query letter, synopsis, first page, or any combination. My policy about conferences is that I won’t take any material with me, and if I am interested, I will let you know what you should email to me.

Q: What kinds of manuscripts are you looking for?

For more information, they should take a look at the Publishers Marketplace page. I’m interested in narrative nonfiction, science (popular or trade, not academic), history, true crime, religion, travel, humor, food/cooking, and similar subjects.  For fiction, I’m looking for strong literary fiction, YA, sci-fi, fantasy, and smart detective novels (more Sherlock Holmes than cozy mysteries).

Q: Do you have any extra tips for your pitch sessions?  

If you can, be a few minutes early – if the agent isn’t talking to someone, you can usually start your session early, and it shows that you are very interested in seeing them and you are professional.

Be a good listener – the worst sessions are when I feel like the person is using me as a prop for their pitch; sometimes when I recommend a change, or a book they should read, their eyes glaze over. I want to have a conversation about your book, and I want to enjoy meeting you.

If you don’t get a chance to have a session, you can definitely approach me during the conference at another time – just not in the bathroom and not in the buffet line!

Q: Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?

I prefer not, but I understand writers want to take advantage of the conference, which might not sync up perfectly with your writing schedule. I would say it should be complete, but you don’t have to be done with revisions or polishing. And please tell me that it’s not ready! I don’t want you to rush to get it to me because I requested it, only to have to pass because it wasn’t polished.

Q: Finally, if you do not represent what a participant writes but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent?

I think it would be better to approach me outside of the pitch session, since those spaces are really for projects that I could sign. It’s better to focus on the agents that are at the conference that do your type of book than to approach me for something that I don’t represent.

Q & A With agent Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica Sinsheimer, The Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Sinsheimer_GreenQ:  If someone has an appointment with you, what should they bring?
Please come with a print-out of your query, a synopsis (around three pages), and the first ten pages. Though I’ll inevitably overpack (and therefore will have no extra room to take anything home), there are times when I need to see your work on paper to get a better idea.

Q: What kinds of manuscripts are you looking for?
On the fiction side, I’m looking for women’s, literary, and young adult fiction of all subgenres. I’m particularly interested in historical fiction, thrillers, and works that feature strong protagonists changing the world around them. For nonfiction, I’d love to see psychology, parenting, food books (memoirs and/or cookbooks), memoirs, pop science, and works that speak to life in the twenty-first century. A strong narrative element is key – with that, we’d be willing to look at work on almost any subject matter. Please see our website, http://www.SarahJaneFreymann.com.

Q: Do you have any extra tips for your pitch sessions?
Please don’t feel that you have to come in and perform a script you’ve rehearsed. And there’s no need to read your query to me – I can see that later. Just have a short few lines, an elevator pitch, prepared. We’ll talk about your book, what inspired the idea, and a little about you and your life. We have so little time – and everything else can be sent by email.

Q: We know one should not take an agent appointment without a completed manuscript. However, we hear of authors doing that all the time and it somehow works out. Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?
Absolutely!

Q: Finally, if you do not represent what a participant writes but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent? If you don’t rep what someone writes, should they just not meet with you or can you still help in any way?
Of course. I’m in the business of matchmaking. If I find something wonderful for one of my colleagues or even a friend at another agency, I’m still pleased to know I’ve helped a work find its perfect home.

Q & A with agent Lois Winston

Lois Winston, Ashley Grayson Literary Agency

Winston, LoisQ: What should participants bring to their pitch sessions with you? 

One page query letter and the first 2 pages (double-spaced) of their manuscript.

Q: What are you looking for? 

The Ashley Grayson Literary Agency was established in 1976 and handles both literary and commercial fiction, children’s fiction, and some nonfiction. I currently represent authors who write romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, young adult, and horror, but voice is more important to me than genre, and I love books that make me laugh out loud. I’m not interested in category romance, erotica, regencies, inspirationals, westerns, or paranormal books that feature vampires and shape-shifters.

Q: What mistakes do most writers make when approaching agents?

Three top mistakes I see:

1.       Many writers query too soon. Polish your work until it’s the best it can be before you submit, and you’ll receive fewer rejections.

2.       Know correct grammar and punctuation usage. Too many writers don’t know the most basic of grammar and punctuation rules (and no, that’s not what an editor is for.)

3.       Don’t take rejection personally. This is a business. If your work isn’t right for me, it may be perfect for someone else. Or you may need to reread mistakes #2 and #3.

Q:  Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?

I would prefer to see authors with completed manuscripts.
Q:  Finally, if you do not represent what participants write but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent? 

Yes, I do pass along manuscripts to our other agents if the manuscript is not right for me but might work for someone else at our agency.

 

Speaking of agents, we have a MWW success story to share.

During our 2009 MWW, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency met with workshop participants for pitch sessions and signed three authors as clients. In fact, Joanne now represents MWW attendee Veronica Roth who writes YA and has contracted a 3-book deal with Harper Collins Children’s books.

Roth cover

Veronica’s first book, Divergent, has been on the New York Times Bestseller List at #6 for three weeks! We encourage you to register for MWW 2011. Maybe you will be our next success story.

Q & A with agent Kathleen Ortiz

Kathleen Ortiz, Subrights Director / Agent at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation
Ortiz, KathleenQ:  If participants made an appointment with you, how should they prepare for their pitch session? 

ALWAYS come prepared with a 2-3 sentence pitch and a hard copy of the query. I stress that the pitch is ONLY 2-3 sentences and the query is the actual query they would send. Since the MWW pitch sessions are ten minutes, the first 5 pages are handy, as well. Come prepared with questions in case the project isn’t for me – I’m happy to spend the rest of the appointment giving advice/resources on how to pitch, send queries, do research, etc.

Q:  What are you looking for?

I’m only looking for YA or paranormal/urban fantasy romance at this time. No women’s fiction or other adult genres outside of romance. I like all YA, though the darker the better. I’d really like a YA horror, thriller, suspense, cyberpunk or intense mystery.

Q: What do you wish more writers knew?

Top three mistakes I see:

1.       Reading the entire query to me (it’s a pitch – 2-3 sentences)

2.       Arguing with me if I kindly state it’s not for me. You want someone who will be an advocate of your work – if it’s not for me, respect my decision and use the extra time to ask questions about the industry. Someone else WILL be an advocate for your work.

3.       Giving me a business card. I don’t keep them. If I ask for pages, it’s the author’s job to contact me not the other way around.

Q:  Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?

I prefer someone pitches me if the manuscript is completed.
Q:  Finally, if you do not represent what a participant writes but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent? 

If I’m pitched a Middle Grade, I will certainly refer it if it has potential. Otherwise, I prefer not to be pitched if it’s not something I rep.

Interview with author Patti Digh

INTRODUCING PATTI DIGHDigh
“I can’t wait to meet Patti, whose most recent book, Creative is a Verb, is full of the author’s fascinating personal stories. Patti inspires readers to get in touch with their uniqueness,” commented MWW committee member Cathy Shouse. “It also offers hundreds of thought-provoking quotes from everyone from Malcolm Gladwell to C.S. Lewis.  I appreciate its refreshing reminder that along with instruction on craft we must learn to effectively tap into the creativity each one of us was born with.”Q: Your Thursday Intensive Session “From Blog to Book” is the first time MWW has offered such a topic. Give us a brief overview and timeline of how your blog turned into a book.

I started writing my blog, 37days.com, in January of 2005, as a response to my stepfather dying just 37 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I was asking myself one question: “What would I be doing if I only had 37 days to live?” and writing my stories down for my two daughters was one important answer to that question. Several years after I started writing it, a publisher approached me and asked if I was interested to make a book from 37days. That book, Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally, was published by Globe Pequot Press in 2008, and is illustrated exclusively by readers of my blog from around the world.

Q: Tell us a little about your background.

I got my undergraduate degree in English, with a focus on contemporary American literature, and my graduate degree in English and Art History, with a focus on the figure of the artist in fiction.

My graduate thesis was on William Gaddis’ masterpiece, The Recognitions, which I consider one of the great American novels (along with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove [yes, really], and Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing).

I imagined I would be an English professor somewhere, but I found myself in Washington, D.C., for 20 years after graduate school, in the business world.  The first book I co-authored was called a “business book of the year 2000” by Fortune magazine. A few years later, I wrote another well-regarded business book.

And then the death of my stepfather sent me on a much more personal path, and I haven’t looked back at that other business voice since. I am fully inhabiting my own voice now, and telling my own stories.

Q: When you started blogging, was your objective to get a book contract and if so, are there specific steps to make that happen?

Absolutely not, and I believe we fall prey to focusing on outcome and not on process far too often. My intention was singular: I wanted to write my stories down for my two daughters so they would know me as a person, and not just as a mom. I wanted to leave behind a record of my being-all of it, not just the tidy professional me, but the messy, confused, fearful parts too.

I had no audience in mind but them, and I believe this singularity of intention ultimately drew readers in great numbers to the blog, ironically. A friend teaches young actors and one of the first things he teaches them is that you can’t play two intentions on stage at the same time. For example, you can either warn Hamlet (if that is the part you are playing), or you can try to get the audience to love you, but you can’t do both and do them honestly. Writing for a book contract is a split intention. Write what it is you long to say instead. Focus on process-using your voice, saying what you long to say-and not on product. Focus on content, and not on form.

Q: Will your MWW Intensive Session be more technology oriented or writing oriented; in other words, what should people expect?

Writing, writing, writing, writing, writing. In general, writers spend more time talking about how to write or what to write or what keeps us from writing than we do actuDigh creative bookally writing. This intensive will take us into process. I’ll also share insider tips on product–what happens in that liminal space between blog and book? We’re going to look at intention, voice, and much more–by writing, by digging into both content and form.

Q: Anything quirky or unusual about yourself inquiring minds would want to know?

My childhood hero was Johnny Unitas (quarterback for the Baltimore Colts), I played Johnny Appleseed in my fourth grade play, one of my favorite recording artists is Johnny Cash, I have a slight obsession with Johnny Depp, and I’m married to a man named Johnny. There is a pattern here. I also love the smell of lavender, and I write a thank you note every morning. And mail it. And I love to laugh.

Q & A with author Shirley Jump

Shirley Jump

Q: Young Adult fiction seems to be popular right now. What can you tell us about your next YA title?

My next YA book, The Cellar, will be out in the spring from Houghton Mifflin Graphia. It’s basically zombies with “Romeo and Juliet,” and has a little more of a love story (and older characters) than we had in The Well. It’s still got the Shakespeare theme, and this time the horror comes from the zombies next door who want to turn the heroine into a zombie and keep her forever.

Q: In addition to YA, you write romance and women’s fiction. How important is it to continue to explore new genres, including at workshops?

I read across all genres, and write in other genres when I’m not writing my primary genre, romance. That’s how the YA came about…I just happened to have a book I’d been working on, just for fun, that ended up being another genre for me to write. I think ALL genres can teach you about great pacing, strong storytelling, increasing stakes and all the tools of the trade that make for a great book. And, in my opinion, it never hurts to learn about other genres. For one, many of the storytelling techniques are the same and you can bring those lessons across to your own writing, and for another, you never know where you might end up in a few years. So having that knowledge in your back pocket, so to speak, can be handy.

Q: Please give us a sneak preview of the topic you will be addressing at the closing banquet for MWW 2010.

I’ll be talking about Secrets to Success–basically how to take everything you learn at a conference and how to use it to create success from that day forward, as well as how to keep being successful even in a competitive publishing environment.

Meet Literary Agent Suzie Townsend

Townsend

 

We caught up with Suzie and asked her a few questions about her 2010 MWW presentation THE DREADED SYNOPSIS… (Part II, Friday, July 30)1) Why do you think the synopsis gives writers so many problems and do you find confusion about length is common?

The synopsis is evil. Everyone hates them. Writer’s hate them because they’re so hard to write. The question of what to include and what to leave out is especially hard because a writer is so close to their own work. Length and tone can sometimes also be a source of confusion because sometimes editors or agents will ask for different specifics in a synopsis if they have a specific purpose in mind for it.


2) How important is being able to write an effective synopsis to a writer’s career?

Very. Editors and agents use synopses to generate in house excitement for a project that will help get more people behind the project and the author – which is so important at all stages of the publication process. Film and subrights agents also often ask for a synopsis when they’re looking at purchasing rights to a manuscript.  And as an author’s career progresses, they’ll need to write a longer synopsis and book proposal for later projects.  Since that’s more in depth, it’s much harder to write especially if an author doesn’t have a basic synopsis to start from.


3) Do you think there are “secrets” to writing a good synopsis and will you be sharing specific tips?

I don’t know if they’re “secrets” per say, but there are rules and an easy formula to “demystify” the synopsis writing process. 


For people who have an appointment with you and for those who are considering registering for one, please share what you are currently looking for. Also, please mention a couple of your clients and their most recent books.

For adult fiction, I’m currently looking for a really great urban fantasy or paranormal romance series with a strong voice and characters I can fall in love with (Patricia Briggs or JR Ward are two of my favorites).  In YA and Middle Grade, I’d love to find beautifully written literary projects with a speculative twist (like How I Live Now or Before I Fall or When You Reach Me). I’m also looking for an author/illustrator who does quirky and unique picture books.
 
Some of my clients with books out:
Hannah Moskowitz, BREAK (Simon Pulse 8/2009), INVINCIBLE SUMMER (Simon Pulse, forthcoming)
Nicola Marsh, MARRIAGE: FOR BUSINESS OR PLEASURE (Harlequin, 2/2010), OVER TIME IN THE BOSS’ BED (Harlequin, 6/2010), THREE TIMES A BRIDESMAID (Harlequin 6/2010)
Lisa Desrochers, PERSONAL DEMONS (Tor, forthcoming)