Keynote Speaker for #MWW22: Jane Friedman!

Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for Writer’s Digest and the Virginia Quarterly Review. In 2019, Jane was awarded Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World; her newsletter was awarded Media Outlet of the Year in 2020.

Jane’s newest book is The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press); Publishers Weekly said that it is “destined to become a staple reference book for writers and those interested in publishing careers.” Also, in collaboration with The Authors Guild, she wrote The Authors Guild Guide to Self-Publishing.

In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses, Jane maintains an award-winning blog for writers at JaneFriedman.com; her expertise has been featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Post, Publishers Weekly, NPR, PBS, NBC, CBS, the National Press Club and many other outlets.

Jane has delivered keynotes and workshops on the digital era of authorship at worldwide industry events, including the Writer’s Digest annual conference, Stockholm Writers Festival, San Miguel Writers Conference, The Muse & The Marketplace, Frankfurt Book Fair, BookExpo America, and Digital Book World. She’s also served on grant panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund, and has held positions as a professor of writing, media, and publishing at the University of Cincinnati and University of Virginia.

In her spare time, Jane writes creative nonfiction, which has been included in the anthologies Every Father’s Daughter and Drinking Diaries. If you look hard enough, you can also find her embarrassing college poetry.

Find out more at https://janefriedman.com/

Jane Friedman has an established history with Midwest Writers Workshop:

My career, almost in its entirety, has been spent in service to writers and the writing and publishing community. I’ve attended hundreds of conferences over the years, and while they all have wonderful success stories (and their own special qualities), Midwest Writers has always been the event I go “home” to each year, to hit my own reset button and remember why I do the work that I do. I’ve watched writer-attendees from my very first years flourish into full-time authors, who then return as faculty—and sometimes join the committee. There is a strong tradition of giving back, of helping another writer up the ladder. The spirit is one of generosity and warm-heartedness.

She will deliver the keynote speech, “The Anxiety Talk: Answering the Unanswerable Questions.” You don’t want to miss out on this!

Check out the Full Faculty

Check out the Full Schedule

Q & A with Jane

Leah Lederman, MWW publicity chair, was thrilled to ask Jane Friedman some questions about her upcoming keynote speech. As ever, Jane’s responses were as much practical as they were inspiring, a gift to writers at any stage.

Hopefully you enjoy this interview as much as we did!

MWW: I’ve learned a lot from you about the nuts & bolts of an author career (thank you!), and I’m really excited to hear you talk about the emotional aspect of this strange writer path. What are some of the biggest and most common fears you’ve seen writers express, regarding their work—whether it’s in the mere creation of it, or in putting it “out there”?

JF: Writers get stuck in these lack of confidence loops, and it can stop progress before it even starts. Two of the biggest traps

Do I have talent? There’s a fear of looking foolish, like you’re obviously wasting your time because you can’t write well. The problem is that we all necessarily have to start by doing “bad” work. It takes time and practice to get better. You have to push through it and take satisfaction, even joy, in improving.

Am I too old, too young? Everyone is worried their age is working against them, even young writers, who sometimes feel they won’t be taken seriously. Yet there are few industries like writing and publishing where you can mostly do the work unseen by editors, agents or anyone else. No one has to know your age when you query, and anyway it’s not what you’re being judged on. You’re being judged on the writing or the story on the page. Worries about age is mainly a mindset issue. You can’t do anything about it. Press on with your work.

MWW: Writers definitely seek validation—I’ll be the first to admit it! What types of things have you seen authors qualify as “validation”?

JF: I’ve had writers ask me (since some perceive me as an authority) to rate their writing on a scale of 1 to 10 or ask whether I think it’s “worth it” to continue. They want assurance their writing is good enough to secure an agent or publisher. There’s fear of failure and avoidance of failure.

Probably the biggest piece of validation for authors who seek traditional publication is securing an agent and receiving a very large advance. Then, after publication, usually the biggest validation an author can receive is bestsellerdom, a review in a publication like the NY Times, or a big award.

MWW: But that validation never seems to last long. Do you often see writers achieve a sense of satisfaction or “done-ness” with their work or career?

JF: Almost never, but part of that is just the human condition. We’re never satisfied with what we have, we’re always looking at what we don’t have, or looking at someone else’s paper wondering if they have the answers. It’s natural and somewhat unavoidable. The key is to recognize these thoughts for what they are (unhelpful), and get back to work.

MWW: What do you advise writers pursue instead of that validation—or maybe, how do we access that from within?

JF: Consider: Why did you start writing in the first place? What’s motivating you to tell stories or spread a particular message? What’s that internal why? It doesn’t have to be something positive. You can harness anger at the system or a desire to expose wrongdoing or to warn the world.

When you focus for too long on outcomes (especially outcomes that are really about validation), you can forget what led you to writing to begin with. If you don’t like writing and only like the outcomes, then that’s problematic for sustaining a career. The validating outcomes don’t arrive all that frequently for writers!

MWW: Have you ever been surprised to find a successful and well-established writer who also suffers from self-sabotage traps? I’ve heard of a few who felt “imposter syndrome” and I wondered if there were other pitfalls you’ve seen in the writer world.

JF: Today almost every writer I know has imposter syndrome of one kind or another. Or they get stuck in the comparison trap with other writers. It’s totally normal. Success isn’t a remedy for this.

MWW: In other words, does it ever get easier?

JF: I think the only thing that does make it easier is repetition and consistency in your writing practice. The more you commit and put in the work, the more you realize that’s what it all amounts to. Showing up, day after day, no matter how you feel. That goes for both the good and bad times. You can have a stunning accomplishment, but the next day, you still have to write. Chop wood, carry water, the Zen saying goes.

MWW: How would you advise a writer to establish healthy, attainable goals for their work?

JF: Set goals that you have control over. You can’t control what sort of publisher you’ll get, the size of advance, the number of sales, who will review you, etc. But you can control your own work habits.

There are takeaways for everyone, no matter your genre.

MWW22 is an important opportunity for you to network with others and build a writing community for yourself. 

REGISTER TODAY!

Faculty Katrina Kittle has Encouraging Words for You!

Katrina Kittle is the author of Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie, The Kindness of Strangers (winner of the 2006 Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction), The Blessings of the Animals, and Reasons to Be Happy. Katrina’s new novel, Morning in This Broken World, is forthcoming in June of 2023. She teaches creative writing workshops through Word’s Worth Writing Connections, focusing on craft and motivation (and is especially good at jumpstarting stalled writers). She is a public speaker, most often leading her “Leap and the Net Will Appear” and “Happy Class” workshops. She has been on faculty for the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, the Chicago Writers Association Conference, The Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference, and the Writer’s Block Conference in Louisville. She is currently a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Dayton. Katrina has a thing for goats, gardening, and going barefoot; and is addicted to coffee, pedicures, and movies. She is on Instagram and Twitter @katrinakittle.

Find out more at https://katrinakittle.com/

Katrina will teach the sessions “Wooing Your Muse: Reclaiming Your Pre-Pandemic Moho and Jumpstarting Your Writing Practice” and “Revision: Approached It Like Triage,” and as a panel member for “Point of Entry (about novel openings)”.

Check out the Full Faculty

Check out the Full Schedule

Q&A with Katrina Kittle

Leah Lederman, MWW publicity chair, had a few questions for Katrina Kittle about her upcoming sessions and her outlook on writing. Hopefully you find this interview as refreshing as we did!

MWW: Many writers have created new routines for ourselves in the midst of COVID. What does dedicating time to your craft right now look like for you and what are your top two tips for writers who feel stalled during this time?

KK: Early morning is my magical, creative time. I try to pay myself first by allowing myself this best productive time for my writing. Also, I try to prepare my desk and space the night before, so that there’s nothing that hinders me falling right into the creative work. I prepare my mental space, too, by giving a bit of thought the night before to the writing goal I want to accomplish in the morning.

MWW: Oftentimes writers have a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to writing. What is some advice that you give to your students that you wish you did more of in your own writing?

KK: I wish I’d get better at grabbing little bits of time throughout the day, rather than waiting for big chunks of uninterrupted time. Just doing a ten-minute freewrite can create a sparkling gem! And those ten minutes can accumulate.

MWW: What are the most satisfying aspects of the writing process for you? Conversely, what are the most frustrating or difficult aspects of writing, and how do you cope with those issues?

KK: I really do love all parts of the process, but I think the first draft can be a little terrifying. Writing the rough draft is full of great discovery, but it feels a little like trying to corral a wild animal. Every day, there’s the fear it will run away and disappear and all the work will be lost. After I “capture” the first draft I relax and enjoy the revision process even more. To cope with that out-of-control, tenuous feeling of the first draft requires a daily leap of faith. I focus solely on getting words on the page–quantity over quality. Just catch the words, catch the words. I’ll “tame” the words later.

MWW: In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard says “Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work.” Talk about a time you edited something out of a book that was difficult. Why did you make the decision to remove it and how did it change the story?

KK: It’s always so difficult to throw something away…but it almost always makes the book better. You never want to leave something in just because it was difficult to write or you worked really hard to create or research it–if it doesn’t serve the story, it needs to go. My novel The Kindness of Strangers centers around a case of child sexual abuse (I know that sounds horribly depressing, but there are no scenes of the abuse actually happening! The story begins with the discovery of the abuse, so it’s really about how a community heals) and one woman Sarah’s experience being an emergency foster mom for the abused son of her dear friend. In an early draft, Sarah’s husband was alive, and as my writing group read the opening chapters they said they suspected Sarah’s husband in the abuse because he was a doctor who worked with the abused boy’s mother. Horrified, I wrote a lot of scenes showing Roy to be a model father and husband, trying to get rid of their suspicion, but then my writing friends said things like, “Something really big is going to happen with Roy because you’re giving him so much page time.” I was so frustrated! I remembered wishing Roy was just dead…and then realized that’s exactly what the book needed: for Sarah to be a recent widow. Having her be a grieving widow fit the research even better. Pedophiles go after families where the adults are distracted–from death, illness, divorce, etc.–and the children are hungry for adult attention. Removing him obviously caused a lot of work, although many scenes could still exist as memories and flashbacks. Removing him raised the personal stakes and enriched the story. Having a healthy, intact family reach out to help someone is an okay story. But having a broken, grieving family find the strength to reach out to help someone worse off than they are–and have that help be what actually begins to heal them–is a much better story.

MWW: What resources would you recommend for writers to learn proper revision techniques (aside from your course)?

KK: Tiffany Yates Martin has a fabulous book–Intuitive Editing–that I can’t recommend enough. It’s so helpful and hands on about how to recognize issues in your own work and how to fix them. But any time you can see a before and after revision of a chapter or story, that can be like a master class in revision–to really dig in and look at each change, and how even the smallest changes can accumulate to really elevate and strengthen a piece of writing.

MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching?

KK: For the Revision Session: Treat revision like triage–tackle the most “life-threatening” issues to the story first, then work your way to the “cosmetic” details. Both the storytelling and the language are equally important, but those revisions come in a particular order. For the Woo Your Muse Session: Treat your writing like a relationship–prepare for it, make it welcome, be creative about keeping it happy.

MWW: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?

KK: A mountain goat! I’m a Capricorn anyway, but you have to be so stubborn and tenacious to be a writer. A little capriciousness doesn’t hurt, either!

 

There are takeaways for everyone, no matter your genre.

MWW22 is an important opportunity for you to network with others and build a writing community for yourself. 

REGISTER TODAY!

Kathleen Rooney Branches Across Genres — You Can, Too!

Kathleen Rooney is award-winning author of nine books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including the memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object. She is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their typewriters who compose poetry on demand. The author of the national best-seller Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s Press 2017), her most recent novel is Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (Penguin, 2020) and her latest poetry collection Where Are the Snows will be published by Texas Review Press in Fall of 2022. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay, and teaches at DePaul.

Find out more at https://kathleenrooney.com/

During MWW22, Kathleen will teach the sessions “Poetry: Send in the Clowns” and “Memoir Writing Through Innocence and Experience,” and serve as a panel member for “Wearing Many Hats: How to Balance Your Regular Life and Your Writing Life.”

Check out the Full Faculty

Check out the Full Schedule

Q&A with Kathleen Rooney

Leah Lederman, MWW publicity chair, asked Kathleen Rooney some questions about her upcoming sessions. She had a lot of helpful advice about writing across genres, and ways to be in writing memoir.

Hopefully you enjoy this interview as much as we did!

MWW: Novels, poetry, memoir, and hybrid genres–you wear a lot of writing hats! What can writers learn by stretching themselves into new genres and media, and what advice do you have for writers venturing into new territories?

KR: There’s a lot to be gained from approaching the world through the eyes of a beginner, and that includes gains in your creative writing. When you’re branching out from what you see as your usual genre as a writer, the best advice I have is not to pass any judgments in advance if you can help it (like “I’m bad at poetry” or “I can’t be funny” or “I should just stick to fiction” or what have you) and let yourself have a beginner’s mind and see what happens as it happens.

MWW: How do you decide what medium is best suited for your topic? What makes one subject a poem and another a novel, for instance? Building on that, how does your process differ based on what you’re writing?

KR: In my own writing, the genre is often settled by questions of length and depth–if I feel like I want to be more aphoristic or evoke a particular idea or mood, I know it’s a poem. If I want to stretch out and digress and bring in a lot of other voices, I can tell it’s an essay or nonfiction prose piece. If I really want to explore a voice or character, then I can tell I need the expansiveness of a novel.

MWW: I’m a big fan of Rose Metal Press and love your books on craft. For a writer seeking to improve their work, do you recommend reading books on craft over reading books in their chosen genre, or—since we’ve discussed stretching into new genres—simply reading anything they can get their hands on? Is there a golden ratio?

KR: Thank you! No matter what a writer is writing, good input is key to good output, so I think reading as much as possible in terms of both examples of the genre you want to write in and craft books is the way to go. If you are the kind of person who can read multiple books at the same time, going from one to the other, I recommend that, but if not, you can always just alternate one complete book after the other. Also, reading periodicals and magazines both in print and online is a wise move because even if those things are not exactly featuring what you personally are attempting to write, you’ll be surprised at what you pick up anyway.

MWW: In The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr writes, “You think you know the story so well. It’s a mansion inside your head, each room just waiting to be described, but pretty much every memoirist I’ve ever talked to finds the walls of such rooms changing shape around her. There are shattering earthquakes, tectonic-plate-type shifts. Or it’s like memory is a snow globe that invariably gets shaken so as to shroud the events inside.” Can you talk about a time in your writing where you encountered a memory-situation like this, and how you worked through it?

KR: There’s this saying that gets attributed to all kinds of luminaries from E.M. Forster to Andre Gide, that’s something like “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” and for me, those are the shifts and shakings that hit me most often when I’m writing nonfiction. I have what I consider to be a pretty good memory, so in my experience it’s less that the memory itself gets changed or shrouded and more that the way I feel and think about it or the way I fit it into the bigger narrative of who I am or what I’ve become feels slippery. In fact, that need to judge and categorize and explain is part of why I write essays and memoirs–I need to process my understanding of things that have happened and to figure out how I need to frame them in order to integrate and share and make sense of those events.

MWW: We’ve heard about trusting the reader, but how can we trust that we’ve given the reader enough information to draw their own conclusions? Do we have any control over whether they reach the conclusions we’ve intended?

KR: When I’m teaching, one of my favorite things to say is that “whatever else it is, a piece of writing is also a set of instructions for how it is to be read.” I believe that we have a lot of power over the way we present our stories and ideas, and we can use that power to push our readers to see what we want them to see and to arrive at the takeaways we hope they’ll take away. But power is different than control, so of course we can never control a reader’s reactions completely. But that’s kind of exciting–seeing what a given reader will do with your work.

MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching?

KR: For my poetry class, my favorite takeaway is that a little bit–or a lot–of comedy and humor can make the other emotions you want to include pop. For my memoir class, my favorite takeaway is that life is less about “being” yourself than it is “becoming” yourself and if you cultivate the ability to shuffle back through your various previous selves, you’ll be a more sophisticated writer.

MWW: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?

KR: A dolphin–playing around, having fun, and showing off a little.

There are takeaways for everyone, no matter your genre.

MWW22 is an important opportunity for you to network with others and build a writing community for yourself. 

REGISTER NOW!

MWW22 Faculty Mia P. Manansala has exciting news!

Mia P. Manansala (she/her) is a writer and certified book coach from Chicago who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture. Her debut novel, Arsenic and Adobo, is out now, and the sequel, Homicide and Halo-Halo, released February, 2022.

And let’s congratulate Mia because Arsenic and Adobo recently won the Agatha Award (from Malice Domestic) for Best First Novel!

Find out more at https://www.miamanansala.com

Mia will teach the sessions “How to Craft a Character That Can Carry a Series” and “The Inside Outline: The Perfect Tool for Outlining,” and as a panel member for “Point of Entry” (about novel openings). She is also on the MWW22 Manuscript Evaluation Team!

 

Check out the Full Faculty

Check out the Full Schedule

Q&A with Mia P. Manansala

Leah Lederman, MWW publicity chair, had a few questions for Mia P. Manansala about her sessions for MWW’s summer hybrid conference. She has helpful things to say that writers of any level can take to their practice.

Hopefully you enjoy this interview as much as we did!

MWW: You’re teaching a session about an easy outline method for writing books, the “Inside Outline.” It seems like something that could benefit outliners and pantsers alike. Are you an adamant outliner or do you find that there are specific times when pantsing might be advantageous?

MM: I’m a big proponent of “find the process that works for you.” The writing process varies from person to person and sometimes even from book to book, so I would never want it to seem like I’m delivering writing rules from on high. The Inside Outline is just another tool that a writer can utilize–the power is in its flexibility. You can use it to plan your book before drafting a single word, to figure out next steps when you get stuck midway through drafting, and/or to diagnose your book’s issues when it’s time to come up with a revision plan.

MWW: Your bio talks about your exploration of diverse voices. What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters that are entirely unlike you, perhaps from a different gender, class, or race? How do you recommend writers approach this with sensitivity?

MM: For me, the most difficult thing is making sure that I’m doing these characters justice. That I’m not letting my ignorance and internal biases (which we all have) prevent me from writing a nuanced character rather than a flat caricature. I always recommend that you think of your characters as people–no group is a monolith, so making sure that you give each character the same attention to detail regarding backstory and nuance helps make them feel real. Second, get sensitivity reads and/or beta reads from people from those backgrounds. Again, no one can speak for their entire group, but hopefully they can pinpoint the areas that don’t feel right to them and make you think about your characters in a way you hadn’t before.

MWW: Your book Homicide and Halo-Halo came out in February–congratulations! Tell me, when you have a writing “win” how do you reward yourself?

MM: 99.9% of the time, a writing win means going out for a nice meal or sweet treat. If you can’t tell from my books, I LOVE food. If it’s a really big win, like signing a contract, I’ll shove aside my Midwestern frugalness to splurge on something I really want but would normally not buy.

MWW: When you’re creating characters, what elements of real live people do you use? Do you pull from people you know, people in history or celebrities, strangers on the street? How do you melt their attributes down into compelling characters? 

MM: I’ll take certain personality traits or quirks from people I know, and combine them with aspects I make up entirely. I don’t want any of my characters to be a discernible person, so I’ll decide each characters’ defining trait(s) and build around that.

MWW: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?

MM: My website/author logo has a peacock feather because peacocks have my favorite color palette (purples, blues, and greens), but I’m not sure what that says about me as a writer!

There are takeaways for everyone, no matter your genre.

MWW22 is an important opportunity for you to network with others and build a writing community for yourself.

REGISTER NOW!

Literary agent Regina Ryan: eager to find new nonfiction talent

Meet Regina! She’s one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

Regina Ryan has been the head of her own boutique literary agency for some 40 years, handling mainly adult nonfiction and a small, selected list of juvenile nonfiction. Her areas of interest are wide-ranging and eclectic and include narrative nonfiction, natural history (particularly birds), popular science, the environment and sustainability, gardening, women’s issues, parenting, psychology, business, health, wellness, self-improvement, lifestyle, history, food travel, popular reference and, very occasionally, memoir. She loves good stories, good writing and books that are helpful and/or offer a fresh understanding of the way things work in the world. Among her recent sales are The Appalachian Trail: A Biography by Philip D’Anieri, Birdsong for the Curious Naturalist by Donald Kroodsma, Ph.D., Your Brain on Pregnancy: A Guide to Understanding and Protecting Your Mental Health During Pregnancy and Beyond by Dawn Kingston, Ph.D., Saving Nature: One Backyard at a Time by David Deardorff, Ph.D. and Kathryn Wadsworth, The Great War and the Making of Modern Medicine by Thomas Helling, M.D.; New on Earth: Baby Animals in the Wild by Suzi Eszterhas, A Blissful Feast and Other Culinary Adventures in Italy’s Piedmont, Maremma, and Le Marche by Teresa Lust, and Birding Florida by Randi Minetor.

Regina will present the session “How to Write a Nonfiction Proposal.”

Check out the full faculty here!

Check out the full schedule here!

MWW: You belong to an impressive list of associations and organizations and have even founded some! Are there groups you would recommend to aspiring writers? 

RR: I always recommend the Authors Guild to writers. They have a wonderfully supportive community of members and also answer legal questions writers come up against. In addition, many of my authors find writer support groups in their own communities are helpful. Some libraries run these or authors start them themselves.

MWW: I noticed you have a fondness for birds (my mother is an avid birder, and I’ve grown up loving them). What attracts you to birds, and what particular sighting do you remember most?

RR: What an interesting question. I remember my first sighting of a bird that thrilled me as a young person — it was a bright red cardinal in an evergreen bush in front of my house. I think I was about ten. I couldn’t believe my eyes! And I’m still that way about birds. They are astonishingly beautiful, mysterious, and inspiring to me. I love to watch them go about their business, hoping I’ll learn their ways.

MWW: What elements make a story stand out to you? 

RR: I think the most important thing is to keep the reader’s interest through narrative drive, even moreso than wonderful writing. Never underestimate the power of narrative and the allure of the question: what happens next? When I’m reading, I love feeling I’ve just got to find out “what happens next!” which means I’ve fallen under the spell of a story. Characterization is important too, of course — but to my mind, it’s not as crucial as narrative drive.

MWW: What’s the primary message you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session? 

RR: That agents and publishers are real people — not special and superior beings and they are eager to find new talent.

MWW: Are there elements of a query that make you immediately dismiss it? 

RR: Hyperbole in any area makes me very suspicious. I also want to know as soon as possible why I should pay attention to the person writing the query. Why is it going to be worth my time to read what he or she has to say. If that’s not there, I can’t take the query seriously.

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your nonfiction to Regina!

Follow her on Twitter — @ReginaRyanBooks

Agent Jeff Ourvan seeks page-turning narratives

Meet Jeff! He’s one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

Jeff Ourvan is a literary agent with the New York-based Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency and heads up their books-to-film efforts. He’s also an attorney, author and the founder of The WriteWorkshops, which are intensive writing workshops for debut and experienced novelists and memoirists. Some of Jeff’s recent representations include Christopher Knowlton’s Bubble In The Sun, Peter Houlahan’s Norco ’80, and Ron Ferguson and Tatsha Robertson’s The Formula. A boutique publishing imprint Jeff established, Stone Tiger Books, this summer released Chasing Butterflies: The True Story of a Daughter Of 9/11, by Ashley Bisman.

Prior to working as a literary agent, Jeff was a magazine editor, as well as a corporate attorney, public relations consultant, geologist and commercial fisherman. He is a lifelong Buddhist, loves long road trips, has been to all fifty US states, and once drove from Manhattan to the Arctic Circle.

Wish list:

Narrative nonfiction, histories, science, sports, and unusual memoirs. For fiction, I tend to seek romance, sci-fi, YA and MG, and mysteries.

Jeff will present the sessions “How to Pitch; Common Mistakes; What Not to Do When You Pitch” and “The Pros and Cons of Independent vs. Traditional Publishing.” He is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

Check out the full faculty here!

Check out the full schedule here!

MWW: Some agents prefer a proposal for a memoir; others prefer a query letter. Do you have a preference, and why do you think there are such discrepancies within the field?

JO: When it comes to pitching a memoir, I prefer a query letter. If the query piques my interest, then I’d next ask to see a proposal or the full manuscript. I can’t speak for how other agents work, but often I collect queries in my inbox over a period of 2-6 weeks, and when I set aside time to read through what could be hundreds of emails it’s not always practical to stop to review a proposal. If an author is serious about securing an agent, that author really should devote considerable time to crafting a sparkling query letter – an excellent query letter has often made me jump all over a prospective project. In my view, whatever is outstanding in your proposal can indeed be crystallized into a fine query letter – it’s not easy, it’s a craft in itself, but this is the most effective way to get my attention as an agent. As for why there are such discrepancies within the publishing field – well, we are part of what I consider to be the most notoriously subjective business on Earth!

MWW: Is there anything writers should always ask an agent but don’t seem to know because they’re new to being represented?

JO: I think this is sort of a two-part question – what to ask an agent before you have one, and what to ask that agent once you’re signed on. If you find yourself in the fortunate position to choose between two or more offering agents, then you’ll want to consider a few matters: the agent’s client roster and track record; the terms of the offered agency agreement; the enthusiasm the agent appears to have for your project, and whether there’s a shared experience with respect to the material; and the general nature of the relationship a specific agent looks to have with his or her authors. As for the agent or agency’s client roster, it can cut both ways. We all would want the most powerful and successful of agencies, but does that mean you might get “lost” in a client base with celebrity authors? At the same time, you don’t necessarily want an agency that’s too small or just starting out – what contacts in the industry does an unknown agency have? The happy medium, I think, is best – a boutique literary agency with a strong client list, one that has excellent publishing contacts but not too, too many author superstars dominating the lion’s share of their time.

Once you’ve signed on to an agency, then I think you ought to take full advantage of the resources offered. For example, as an agent, I expect to work with my authors on editing or brainstorming their manuscripts to help get them ready to be marketed. I know some agents don’t do this, viewing their roles as simply salespersons, but many other agents are eager to “get in under the hood” with the author to help craft the work. In part, this is why you should choose an agent that has some personal affinity for what you’re writing, whether it be subject matter, theme or genre. Also make sure you understand every provision in the agency agreement and, even more importantly, the publishing contract – your agent should walk you through all the elements of a deal until you understand exactly what will be expected of you.

MWW: Are there specific elements in a manuscript that help determine whether you think you’d like to work that story, or do you approach each manuscript differently?

JO: Again, because “what’s good” is so inherently subjective, I would think every agent is attracted to certain stories or themes that resonate with them. For example, I like well-paced stories, and I look for them – when I’m told by an author that he or she needs five chapters to really develop the characterization before the plot kicks in at around chapter six, I know this work might not be for me. So one of the dynamics I’m keen to discover in a work is the interplay between the plot and the protagonist – does every plot development compel the protagonist to adjust? Does the character adjustment affect the subsequent development of the plot line? This interplay precipitates a story’s energy and keeps the pace from flagging. I was a geologist, so I love science themes; I’m a nut for Shakespeare and have lived long enough to have been burned a few times, so bring me stories about betrayal; I love love, so I adore romantic fiction; and I’m fascinated by Alaska, so books set there always get my attention – my list of interests, of course, goes on and on. Ideally you want to find an agent who is fully invested in your subject matter – an agent ought to be your audience, your guide and certainly your biggest cheerleader. An agent can’t be all that if they’re insincere – so, yes, every agent worth their salt looks for specific elements in each work that appeal to them. We’re not stuck on one genre, usually, and we approach each manuscript differently, but every author I take on has a work that strikes within me a personal chord.

MWW: A lot of authors out there are debating if they need an agent. What are the advantages of having an agent versus not having an agent, and when should an author seek out agent representation?

JO: This is a pretty simple equation. Many acquiring editors will only read manuscripts pitched to them by established agents. So if you’re hoping for a trade publisher to publish your work, chances are you need an agent to get your foot in the door. Of course, not every publisher relies on agencies to be their gatekeepers. Some medium or smaller publishers are open to pitches from authors directly. There are also the times where an editor sees a news story or a social media post and approaches that individual to write a book – that author may not necessarily need an agent. An agent, generally, provides for an author the “passport” to access major publishing houses; the agent also offers important guidance with respect to the terms of a publishing agreement; an agent, additionally, should serve as an editorial sounding board, helping the author to “fix” what might be “wrong” in what he or she thought was a finished manuscript. Not every author needs all this, of course, but it still seems to me that an agent provides important advantages to those seeking traditional trade publication.

On the other hand, the agent takes a 15-20% commission, depending on the terms of the agency agreement and the sales of specific rights. So an author, of course, is paying for the above-described work and guidance.

Lastly, I’d mention that independent (self-) publishing has grown into a dominating presence in the book market. Naturally, if the goal is to independently publish – and there are both advantages and relative disadvantages to doing so – then the author has no real need for an agent.

And, lastly lastly – don’t seek out agent representation until your manuscript (or proposal) is actually finished and ready to be seen!

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your fiction to Jeff!

Follow him on Twitter — @WriteWorkshopNY

Agent Amanda Orozco represents both fiction and nonfiction

Meet Amanda! She’s one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

Before joining Transatlantic, Amanda Orozco gained a breadth of experience in academic publishing, publicity, subsidiary rights, and agenting. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in Physiological Science and an English minor and worked as a Fine Art instructor and freelance editor for several years before moving to New York to complete the NYU Masters of Science in Publishing: Digital and Print Media. While at NYU, she worked at the National Book Foundation, Shreve Williams Public Relations, and The Gernert Company; she was also selected to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Beijing International Book Fair. Upon graduating from NYU in 2019, she worked in Subsidiary Rights at Little, Brown, where she helped sell rights for authors such as Michael Connelly, Elin Hilderbrand, and Sarah Knight, until discovering agenting was her true calling. She worked at Park & Fine Literary and Media before moving back to Los Angeles, where she is now excited to build her list at Transatlantic.

Amanda has been a member of PoCinPub since 2018 and currently works for Dryland, the literary journal born in South Central, where she aims to amplify marginalized voices from the literary underground.

Wish List:

Amanda is particularly drawn to stories from Asian and Latinx writers, though she is always looking for stories with compelling writing featuring protagonists with a distinct voice and personality; clever, quirky, gritty, and/or twisty stories that surprise her and keep her reading through the night.

For fiction, she’s looking for YA contemporary romance and fantasy, as well as literary and upmarket adult fiction in the contemporary, speculative, horror, and romance genres. She has a soft spot for coming-of-age stories, multi-generational family sagas, short story collections, and the occasional urban fantasy. Recent favorites include Mary H.K. Choi, Elizabeth Acevedo, Weike Wang, Kiley Reid, Ling Ma, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, and Leigh Bardugo. She is not the right agent for thrillers, mysteries, procedurals, space operas, or historical fiction.

For nonfiction, she’s interested in stories that offer fresh cultural, political, and/or social critiques along with personal narratives on art, pop culture, tech, and forgotten, unexamined history. She is looking for perspectives from the margins or from emerging artists and academics with original ideas and sharp commentary. She is open to select poetry, memoirs, and illustrated gift/humor books. Recent favorites include Carmen Maria Machado, Cathy Park Hong, Roxane Gay, Ayad Akhtar, and Jenny Odell.

Amanda will present the session “What Agents are Looking for in a Query Letter.” (Check full schedule here.) She is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

MWW: You represent both fiction and nonfiction. Are there different qualities that make fiction shine as opposed to the ones that make nonfiction shine?

AO: I don’t think they’re necessarily different qualities between the two; for both, I would say the voice and writing are key! The unexpected usage of language, the unconventional format or structure, an old story told in a new way… all of these could be applied to both fiction and nonfiction and perhaps the difference would just be in how they’re applied to the project that makes it stand out.

MWW: Name the three top things you look for in a pitch.

AO: 1. Personalization (Is it addressed to me or to another agent mistakenly, which happens more than you would think… Is it clear there’s a reason why the author is querying me specifically or is the opening line a generic, “because you’re looking for fiction”?)

2. Succinct, punchy one-sentence hook (Does the author know how to summarize/market the book in an effective way? Do the comp titles feel relevant?)

3. Author bio (Who is the author as a person? What is their professional background and how does that contribute to their work?)

MWW: What do you hope for when tackling the slush pile? What are you tired of seeing?

AO: Like many in the industry, I’m hoping to fall in love… to come across a project that will make me sit up in my chair and want to read more, where the writing and characters and story are surprising and authentic and compelling. If a book can keep me reading late into the night, then it’s a home run.  I receive such a range of queries it’s hard to say if there’s one thing I’m tired of seeing… I suppose of all the queries, the most common one I’ve received has been in the YA fantasy genre. I wouldn’t say I’m tired of seeing them, because I love the genre, but it does make it difficult for a YA fantasy project to stand out in the crowd.

MWW: What makes you keep reading—or stop reading—a manuscript?

AO: What keeps me reading is superlative writing and narrative voice! When the writing serves the story and doesn’t draw attention to itself… when the characters feel real and engaging and the dialogue is sharp… when I can be immersed in the story and the narrative voice feels naturally strong and different.

What causes me to stop reading is usually if the manuscript does the opposite of any of these!

MWW: What are the biggest takeaways you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session?

AO: I’d love for them to know that when they’re querying, they’re querying a human being! Agents are humans, too; we’re not robots or machines or miracle workers. We are just humans, looking for connection through the stories that they’re sharing with us, that we can then help share with editors and publishers and readers all over the world. Be as genuine as you can in your queries–and be patient!

 

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your fiction or nonfiction to Amanda!

Follow her on Twitter — @oczoroadnama

Claire Harris: agent with a passion for a wide range of fiction and nonfiction

Meet Claire! One of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

Claire Harris is a literary agent with a passion for a wide range of fiction and nonfiction for adults. She got her start through the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and worked at a mid-sized agency before joining the P.S. Literary team. Claire seeks projects with unique voices, interesting writing styles, and compelling characters. She enjoys the creative process of working with creators and collaborating closely with them throughout all stages of their careers. Having grown up in Wisconsin, she has a soft spot for stories set in the Midwest.

Wish List:

Claire is acquiring both fiction and nonfiction projects for adults. She’s actively seeking diverse voices and unique perspectives in all acquisitions. In fiction, she’s looking for adult rom-coms, psychological and commercial thrillers, works of fiction inspired by actual crimes, mystery, suspense, cozies, and contemporary fiction (especially family dramas). Claire is a lover of both the dark and twisted and the light and heartwarming. For nonfiction, Claire is seeking a range of projects, including lifestyle guides, pop culture celebrations, pop psychology, humor, true crime, cultural criticism, gift books, and illustrated books for adults.

Claire will present the session “So you’ve signed with an agent – now what?” She is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

Check out the full faculty!

Check out the full schedule!

MWW: What character types or plots do you feel are overrepresented, or that you’re just tired of seeing?

CH: My main thing is that if it’s a “tired” trope or character or plot point, you need to have a fresh take. Maybe it’s your writing style. Maybe it’s a unique POV. Maybe it’s a trope that you flipped on its head. There’s not a lot that I’m truly “tired of seeing,” as long as there’s a little something new that makes it stand out from other books in the same genre.

MWW: Any tips on what a person can do to make an impression during a pitch session?

CH: Be prepared and know how to concisely pitch your book. I would say that practice makes perfect, but don’t just sit down with an agent and blurt out a memorized script. Try to leave a little room for flexibility and conversation. Make a bulleted list of points you want to hit, but don’t read through a script—be natural. My favorite part of speaking with authors during a pitch session is getting a sense of who they are in addition to hearing about their book. It’s okay (actually preferable) to leave an impression, and for me, those impressions are generally made by being personable and yourself—and not being too nervous! We agents are people, too. Keep that in mind.

MWW: What questions should a writer coming to Midwest Writers Agent Fest ask an agent who is offering representation? 

CH: My favorite question to answer (and one that I think is incredibly telling and important) is, “what’s your agenting/communication style?” If you’re the kind of author who needs weekly check-ins but the offering agent makes it clear they are more hands off, you need to give some thought to that. It can still work if you’re both willing to be open and work with each other to find a happy medium, but that’s a major one. Another is to ask about any edits they might want you to make to the manuscript, which can show you how they’re thinking about positioning the book, etc. I’m also always prepared to talk to the author about their career goals, so while this is something most agents will bring up, it’s important to discuss (and you should feel free to start that discussion if the offering agent doesn’t). There are so many more, but those are three that I think are key.

MWW: What’s the most exciting part about working with a new author on an accepted project? 

CH: For me, one of the best parts of my job is getting a project ready for submission. I absolutely love editing, writing pitch letters, creating sub lists, and calling editors to build the hype. The actual best part, though, is being able to call your author and let them know you have an offer on the table. Those are my favorite calls in the world, and little else brings me as much joy. (A close second would be calling the editor to let them know we’re accepting the offer.)

MWW: What’s the biggest takeaways you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session?

CH: I would love for people to walk away from my Agent Fest session realizing that getting an agent is an important first step, but it’s nowhere near the end of the journey. There’s a long road ahead of them, and I hope I can help writers know what’s coming and maybe even a few key questions to ask along the way.

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your project to Claire!

Agent Dani Segelbaum seeking authors from diverse backgrounds

Dani is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Dani is a graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, where she studied journalism and political science. She has been a voracious reader for as long as she can remember. Dani began her publishing career as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins Publishers, focusing primarily on highly designed nonfiction titles. She currently works as a literary agent at the Carol Mann Agency.

Wish List:

Dani hopes to work with authors from diverse backgrounds to tell stories that are important to them. Her typical preferences include literary and contemporary fiction, memoir, narrative nonfiction, and popular culture. Find out more by following her on Twitter.

Dani will present the session “The Do’s and Don’ts of Querying Agents.” She is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

MWW: How often do you get a pitch that you later wish you had accepted, or you wish they’d pitched again after revising. Do you have any insight as to how they could have better pitched their work?

DS: I always want authors to pitch me again after they’ve revised! It shows that they are willing to put in the work and are dedicated to the story. A tip I always suggest to writers is make sure to add comp titles to your query letters.

MWW: What do you hope for when tackling the slush pile? What are you tired of seeing?  

DS: I always hope to find a query letter that completely captures my attention. I’m lucky that I’ve found some incredible manuscripts in the slush pile. I’d also love to see more authors from diverse backgrounds tell their stories. I don’t typically represent sci-fi or fantasy stories, so I’m not the best agent to query for those genres.

MWW: What’s something that comes out soon that you’re excited about?

DS: I am so excited for Hanya Yanagihara’s third novel, To Paradise.

MWW: What’s your favorite book, or favorite kind of book to read?

DS: I truly love reading a variety of stories. A fun rom-com, a mesmerizing memoir, or a fantastic cookbook. I love them all!

MWW: What’s the primary message you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session?

DS: Getting a book published is not an easy journey. Authors that are smart, dedicated, and passionate about their writing always stand out.

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your project to Dani!

Pitch your nonfiction to agent Rita Rosenkranz

Meet literary agent Rita Rosenkranz

Rita is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

A former editor with major New York houses, Rita Rosenkranz founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990. Her wide-ranging adult nonfiction list stretches from the decorative to the dark. She represents health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, popular reference, cooking, spirituality, sports and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or lesser-known subjects presented commercially.  www.ritarosenkranzliteraryagency.com

Rita will present the session “All About the Author/Agent Relationship. She is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

MWW: What are the most important elements of a proposal a writer submits to you? 

RR: I look to determine that the author is well-paired with the topic, so I won’t have to argue why this writer is working on this particular project, and also that the work fills an obvious gap among the list of comparable titles. Ideally, the project will further the conversation on a topic we thought we knew.

MWW: What led you to your current wish list? Has it changed, ever? 

RR: My wish list is always evolving. Even though I’m not riding trends hyper-consciously, when a category is saturated it’s time to sit it out for a while. And when it’s clear editors are hungry for a particular category, it’s lovely if I’m working with an author whose work applies. But mostly I’m attracted to projects that aren’t in and out of fashion.

MWW: Because you’re primarily interested in nonfiction, what do you think makes a nonfiction work masterful? 

RR: It’s obvious when an author has a command of a subject, offering insight and an articulated perspective that helps educate us or even reframe our thinking. Those works stand out. They’re pulse-quickening.

MWW: How do you recommend getting over “pitch anxiety”? 

RR: I understand the nervousness. Authors think they have one shot, and if they don’t connect effectively, they’ve missed out. But, obviously, agents are humans, too. And the author invariably has talked a lot about their work to many others, in effect, rehearsing the pitch. We are another listener, leaning in, hoping to connect to something brilliant and saleable.

MWW: What’s the primary message you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session?

RR: Agents who are reaching out to authors at a writers’ conference are by definition looking for projects. We are open to hearing about your passion for your work, and how it will be of interest to readers. The most successful authors (this applies to agents, too), persevere to find a place they can call home. Keep searching until you find your home.

 

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your nonfiction project to Rita!