Craft + Community: That’s what MWW21 is all about

Make MWW21 your summer destination

Join us for inspiring four days at Midwest Writers Workshop, July 28-31, 2021. It’s the best kind of writing conference for both aspiring authors and those getting ready to pitch or market finished works.

More than 20 sessions cover aspects of novel-writing, creative nonfiction research, children’s writing, memoir, essays, and new this year – writing comics. Plus breakout sessions, writing prompts, cocktail hours, and chances to read a “first page” for feedback.

Everything is online, but we offer a remarkable level of intimacy nonetheless! You’ll find it a joy to get acquainted with fellow speakers and hear from writers whose struggles are similar to yours. In every session, the mutual support and encouragement you receive (in the chat boxes and in small breakout “rooms” where you can unmute and unload) will keep you motivated and inspired. And there’s a private Facebook group for shared links and book recommendations, questions, and selfies.

Best piece of advice for persons registering for MWW21 in July: Keep an open mind. If you write romance novels, attend a poetry session; if nonfiction is your passion, attend how to create powerful scenes. In other words, plan to stretch yourselves in all sorts of new ways. The best part of being a writer is that you never master it. You’re always learning and experimenting.

Virtual MWW21 is around the corner! July 28-31!

MWW21 is more than instructional and inspiring sessions!

Award-winning author and MWW21 fiction faculty, Angela Jackson-Brown offered this wisdom:

On Thursday, July 29th, the second day of the Midwest Writers Workshop conference, you will have the opportunity to “Read Your Stuff” during our Morning Talkabouts.

Of course, some of you are probably shy or nervous about reading your work out loud. In fact, some of you might even avoid reading your work out loud to yourself. Completely understandable. It definitely feels a little awkward. But it’s some of the best advice you can receive when it comes to reviewing your own work. Reading it out loud lets you physically hear it, a different experience altogether from hearing it in your head. We would urge you to consider pushing through that desire to remain silent and share your work.

Below are some reasons why it is great to share your work. The information below comes from an article written by David Berner of The Writer Shed.

  1. You will catch awkward or unnecessary phrases. When we write, we write in silence, meaning we figure out the words in our head and then simply type them. And when you do this, you tend to create unnecessary phrases and sentences, description that is filler, fluff. If we read the work out loud that “fluff” jumps out at us. It will reveal what needs to be cut.
  2. You find the music in your words. When people say, “that writer writes so beautifully,” they usually mean he/she writes like a poet, a lyricist, and the words flow like the most magnificent of songs. And how do we know we like a particular song? We hear it. It’s not enough to see the notes on a staff; we must experience the melody aurally. Words on a page are no different. Reading out loud will let you know immediately if you are one of the “beautiful writers” or if your story is clunking along like a bad ballad from the 80s. It helps you find the rhythm and pace of your writing, and to ultimately create a memorable melody of story.
  3. You will find your voice. There is so much talk about writers finding their voice, that unique pattern and style that is all yours. Many times, writing workshops tend to overplay voice. But what they do get right is that writers should write enough to discover it, not force it. Let it emerge naturally. Reading out loud can help in this process. The more you hear your words, the more you can identify how your writing voice is developing.
  4. You will find your mistakes. We read silently, in part, through a filter. If we do a lot of reading, our brains skim through anticipated phrases and words. We do not read every single word. But, if we read out loud, we are forced to read every word, and that permits us to discover those grammatical errors, typos, even help us see where that comma is misplaced.
  5. You become a better reader of your own work. If you find yourself writing material that is published or can be shared at many of the live lit experiences popping up all over most cities, reading your work out loud will give you practice. You will hear where you need to work on intonation and pace, where there are words and phrases that look good on paper but are hard to say, and you’ll prepare yourself for troublesome pronunciations. I recently wrote a piece that mentioned a town in Wales. I had seen the town’s name hundreds of times in print, but until I read it out loud, I truly hadn’t known the correct way to say it. Reading out loud fixed that.

Perhaps most important when you’re reading your work out loud and correcting the flow and possible minor mistakes: be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re taking a courageous step forward to hear yourself and discover your writing voice. That’s not a small thing.

Make MWW21 July 28-31 your virtual destination! Register today!

YA author Jay Coles discusses Diversity in Kidlit at MWW21

Jay Coles is the author of critically acclaimed Tyler Johnson Was Here, a composer with ASCAP, and a professional musician residing in Muncie, Indiana. He is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University and holds degrees in English and Liberal Arts. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, serving with The Revolution church, and composing music for various music publishers. Jay’s equally passionate about playing drums. Find him and nerd out over making some dope beats. Jay’s forthcoming novel Things We Couldn’t Say is set to be released this fall with Scholastic!

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet Young Adult author Joy Coles who discusses his writing and what he will present at our virtual summer conference.

Jay’s MWW21 sessions:

  • “Diversity in Kidlit” — In this workshop, we will look at what it means to write diversely for young adults and middle graders as well as discuss examples of books/authors that do this well and how can we better equip ourselves to write more inclusively to reflect the world that we live in.
  • “How to Strengthen Your Opening Pages” — In this workshop, we will examine how to make your opening pages to your manuscript stick out by looking at all the ways that you can hook readers–narrative voice, character, setting, and/or killer opening lines. All the things that’ll keep your reader wanting to turn the page.
  • Panel: “Staying Motivated & Productive / Beating Rejection / Improving Your Writing Routine” with authors Larry Sweazy, Jay Coles, Pam Mandel, Matthew Clemens, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown

MWW: In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says “Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.” Do you think this sentiment applies to the work you’re doing, and can you touch on certain themes that emerge from your writing, things you tend to pay attention to? 

JC: Of course. I feel a lot of my writing is fueled by my curiosity to understand and know the world we live in. There’s always more to see, more to experience, and more to discover about our world and even about ourselves and the people we are. My writing usually follows characters who are on a journey of self-discovery and exploring their identities in this broken world. This is why in anything I write you will find conversations about race, sexuality, religion, social justice, and other social issues because these are things that are so deeply entangled with our world and our very existence and it feels unfair not to communicate what’s going on in my work, even if I’m writing fiction.

MWW: What authors or books most inspire you, and why? 

JC: I will read anything by Jason Reynolds, Adam Silvera, and Renee Watson because not only is their writing so gorgeous and poetic, but they happen to tell very real stories in very honest and unflinching ways that inspire me deep at my core.

MWW: When you hit the wall and nothing is working on your computer screen, how do you clear your head and refresh? Do you power down and go to a movie, or do you just keep pounding the keys? Advice? 

JC: I definitely disengage. I close my laptop (or my writing journal) and I turn on a good movie on Netflix or Disney Plus. I go get dinner, ice cream or a tasty snack and I don’t think about my writing. I’d rather not force anything, even if I’m on a hard deadline. My advice to writers when they feel like they’ve hit a wall, is to stop writing. It’s okay to take a break and recharge. Go on a walk, play a board game with a friend, cook your favorite meal, go biking, or just sit under a tree if it’s nice out! Do anything else to recharge your creativity.

MWW: If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?

JC: Don’t believe people who tell you that the best thing to do is write everyday. That’s stupid. And unrealistic.

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

JC: An owl. I love staying up super late writing and snacking (ha!), but I also just love owls in general. My favorite childhood book was HOOT which is all about owls!

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Jay!

Jessica Strawser’s sessions are FULL of takeaways!

Meet award-winning author Jessica Strawser at MWW21

Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest, where as editorial director she became known for her in-depth interviews with such talents as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She is the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You, named to Barnes & Noble’s Best New Fiction shortlist; Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month bestsellerForget You Know Me, now new in paperback; and A Million Reasons Why, released in March 2021 (all from St. Martin’s Press). She has written for The New York Times Modern Love, Publishers Weekly, and others, is a contributing editor at CareerAuthors.com, and is a popular speaker at writing conferences. She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati, where she was named 2019 Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Connect with her online at jessicastrawser.com, on twitter @jessicastrawser and on Facebook and Instagram at @jessicastrawserauthor.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet novelist Jessica Strawser who discusses her writing and what she will present at our virtual summer conference.

MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching? Why do you think this is important for writers to consider in their own work?

JS: I’m teaching two sessions that are designed to be full of takeaways! In “Surprise and Delight Your Readers on Every Page,” the overall goal is to give you tools and tips that can literally take your stories to the next level one page at a time—which I find so much less intimidating than the prospect of tackling an entire book-length manuscript. In “10 All-Time Best Writing Lessons From 10 Years of Interviews with the All-Time Best Writers,” my favorite takeaway is pure motivation: inspiration to keep going after your writing goals with renewed energy and perseverance.

MWW: What do you love most about writing suspense? On the flip side, what is the greatest challenge? 

JS: I’ve found that I quite like writing toward a twist: Being in on a secret that a reader is not, and knowing where a story is going without quite knowing how I’m going to get there. Of course, sometimes, the not knowing how to get there becomes the biggest challenge, too.

MWW: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

JS: My new novel, A Million Reasons Why, is my most research-intensive book to date, as it deals with sensitive health-related topics that haven’t affected me personally: matching through mail-in DNA test kits, chronic disease, and live organ donation. The book I just completed for release next year was very heavy on research too, as the characters’ lives are consumed by their work in a profession that is both new and unfamiliar to many readers. For both of those stories, I needed to do a lot of legwork up front to be sure my plots and characters were even plausible before diving in.

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?

JS: I think I’m less adverse to editing than a lot of writers simply because I was an editor first. That doesn’t mean I find editing painless or easy—not at all—but it does mean I’m always looking for something I can remove from a story to make it stronger. I tend to write long and then cut back. Those edits are always difficult in progress, but in the end it’s satisfying to cut 5,000-10,000 words from a story and find that what remains is a sharper version of itself.

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

JS: Maybe something magical that everyone wants to believe really exists, like a unicorn.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Jessica!

“You CAN improve your writing skills,” says Angela Jackson-Brown

Meet award-winning author Angela Jackson-Brown

Angela Jackson-Brown is an award-winning writer, poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing and English at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She is a graduate of Troy University, Auburn University and the Spalding low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. She has published her short fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and poetry in journals like The Louisville Journal and the Appalachian Review. She is author of Drinking From a Bitter Cup (WiDo Publishing, 2014), House Repairs (Negative Capability Press, 2018), and her latest novel, When Stars Rain Down, which will be published by Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins, in the spring of 2021.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, interviewed Angela about her writing and what she will present at MWW21.

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

AJB: A worker bee. I am a productive writer because I am a hardworking writer who, much like the worker bee, realizes being a writer isn’t, most times, a very glamourous job.

MWW: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

AJB: The first time I learned that language had power was when I wrote my first story. I saw the impact it had on the people I shared it with, especially my daddy. I realized then that storytellers have the ability to transport other people to another place, even if only for a short period of time.

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

AJB: Improving our writing skills can be taught. There are some aspects of writing that are innate and either the person has “It” or they don’t BUT so much of writing can be learned if we are willing and open vessels. THAT is the one thing I hope everyone walks away believing. They can improve their writing skills. They just have to be willing to put in the hours/days/weeks/months/years needed to elevate their skill set.

MWW: Why do you think this is important for writers to consider in their own work?

AJB: Writers need to know that writing is not just this mystical act that depends on some mysterious muse. Writing is back-breaking, sweat-inducing work. Every day, to be successful at being writers, we have to show up and put in the effort it takes to take our work to the next level. It is not for the faint of heart.

MWW: How do you channel real life experiences in your fiction — or do you? 

AJB: I primarily write historical fiction, so I am constantly weaving in the historical past into my fictional worlds. I can’t imagine writing without paying attention to what was happening when my novels are set. How do I write about politics in 1948 without mentioning Truman, Civil Rights and the Dixiecrats? Historical details are the bread and butter of any story, regardless of when it is set.

MWW: I’ve read Drinking from a Bitter Cup and can’t wait for When Stars Rain Down. In your writing, what are some themes that arise again and again?

AJB: Family relationships and spirituality almost always show up in my work. If a writer knows the intricacies of their characters’ relationships with other characters, then they have the tools to write a complex plot. Spirituality is something all of my characters grapple with because they, like us, are trying to figure out how they got here and what their purpose in life is going to be.

MWW: Do you deal with them differently in your separate works?

AJB: The outcomes are different but the strategies are the same in most of my work.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Angela!

My First Jane Friedman Course

By Leah Lederman

Why You Need to Sign Up for Jane Friedman’s MWW One-Day, March 27, 2021

I met Ms. Friedman in person at a workshop held by the Indiana Writer’s Center at Marian University in 2019.

Now, I’ve come across celebrities. I once passed Steve Harvey at the Detroit Metro Airport baggage claim at 2 am. But at that moment in the college hallway, I understood the feeling people talk about when they describe meeting a major influence in their life.

(She might remember me as the cartoonish character wagging my tongue while she was trying to get her mojo in place before class. I took my seat, grateful I could stop my mouth-rattling and if she was too, she never let on.)

That workshop was “Getting Your Work Published” and it marked a turning point in my career as a writer. At that time, I’d had a short story collection published by small press and while I sensed that not all of my works-in-progress were best suited for the same trajectory, I didn’t know how to make an informed choice.

The slides were set and the microphone checked, Jane cleared her throat and said something like, “I’m about to school y’all.”

Okay, she didn’t say that. Memory is a funny thing. That’s what I remember, though. Because school me she did.

The presentation was chock full of sample pitches and bios, cover images, charts and graphs, do’s and don’ts, and insider tips. Ms. Friedman took questions from the class like she was rolling a basketball over her shoulders. Honestly, I’d never seen someone go Harlem Globe-trotters while discussing the publishing industry, but that’s the closest comparison I can make.

I sat in the car for a good ten minutes afterwards, a tuning fork still sounding from the information I’d ingested. Rarely outside of grad school had I encountered so much information so densely packed and tightly organized. Ms. Friedman’s talk covered everything from agents, queries, proposals, and comp titles, to book covers, editors, formatting, and distribution. Plus hybrid publishing!

I was familiar with or had working definitions of a lot of the material when I walked in (helped in no small part by www.janefriedman.com), but for so long I’d been drowning in these concepts—especially the varied advice I received about them. By the time I walked out of that room, Jane had given me a life vest, an inflatable raft, an oar, and a first-aid kit.

Naturally, I signed up for her free newsletter, “Electric Speed” (recently I added “The Hot Sheet”) and when 2020 came around, her consistent online course offerings were indispensable to my burgeoning author career. Ms. Friedman’s classes illuminated the nuts and bolts of the writing life: I learned about self-publishing, blogging strategies, working on my author website and managing my author platform. On top of that, top-notch guest lecturers like Allison Williams and Dinty Moore offered valuable insights into the process of memoir.

I’d like to say I’m Jane Friedman’s number one fan but there’s too many contenders and I try not to start fights (I’m barely five feet tall and out of shape). Instead of giving *myself* a title, I’ll simply say that Jane Friedman is a national treasure for writers, a strong supporter of Midwest Writers, and you should sign up for everything she’s putting out there. It will change the trajectory of your author career.

“When it’s time to publish your book,” Jane says, “remember that there is no such thing as a career-ending decision. While I want everyone to feel confident and informed about the publishing options available to them, the honest truth is that many writers end up in a publishing situation that isn’t quite what they imagined, or working with a publisher they’d never before considered. And sometimes the publisher (or agent) isn’t as all powerful or impressive as you once imagined! At some point in the process, you come to realize that much of your success rests on you and the qualities of the work you’ve been developing for years. This is ultimately for the best: you will partner with publishers or services as it suits you, and most writers will modify their path for each and every project. Simply put: You don’t rely on publishers for success.”

REGISTER TODAY!

In this masterclass with publishing industry expert Jane Friedman, you’ll learn not just the foundational principles of getting a book published, but gain up-to-date insight into the changing landscape of the publishing industry, and how you can navigate your own path toward success. You’ll discover what it takes to capture the attention of a New York publisher or literary agent (whether you write fiction or nonfiction) and how to determine if self-publishing, hybrid, or traditional publishing is the most appropriate path for your next project. Can’t attend the sessions live? No problem. MWW is offering archival video access for three months to ALL registered attendees.

Attend How to Get Published with Jane Friedman

MWW Virtual One-Day Conference with Jane Friedman

How to Get Published: Traditional, Self, and Everything in Between

Saturday, March 27, 2021

  • Morning Session (10:30 am – 12:00 pm EST) Traditional Publishing
  • Afternoon Session (1:30 pm – 3:00 pm EST) Self-publishing (and alternatives like hybrid publishing)
  • Cost: $79 early bird; $99 after February 28

In this masterclass with publishing industry expert Jane Friedman, you’ll learn not just the foundational principles of getting a book published, but gain up-to-date insight into the changing landscape of the publishing industry, and how you can navigate your own path toward success. You’ll discover what it takes to capture the attention of a New York publisher or literary agent (whether you write fiction or nonfiction) and how to determine if self-publishing, hybrid, or traditional publishing is the most appropriate path for your next project. Can’t attend the sessions live? No problem. MWW is offering archival video access for three months to ALL registered attendees.

This class will cover the following:

  • Querying like a pro. Your one-page query letter should be short and sweet and pack a punch. Learn what it means to sell your story, and how to avoid problems that plague (and sabotage) writers in this critical document.
  • Whether you need an agent—who they are and what they do. You’ll learn what the standard agenting practices are and why you might want one—and how to make sure you don’t get involved with a bad one.
  • Researching markets (agents and editors) for your work. We’ll look at the major tools and resources for identifying the right agent or publisher for you.
  • Explore traditional publishing options outside of New York. The world of independent publishers—including university presses, small presses, and regional presses—is vast and can sometimes be more challenging to understand than New York publishing, as they all operate a bit differently. Learn how to assess the strength and position of any book publisher.
  • How to decide if you or your book is well-suited to self-publishing—plus the major self-publishing services available, and how to choose the best channels, formats, and distributors based on your target audience and genre.
  • Learn how to decipher “hybrid” publishing arrangements now available alongside the key forms of self-publishing and e-publishing practiced today.

By the end of this class, you’ll have a game plan for getting your book to market in the most efficient and effective way, based on your skills and target readership.

REGISTER TODAY!

About Jane:

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 F+W Media 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, Publishers Weekly, NPR, PBS, 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.

 

Still time! Pitch fiction to Amy Stapp at Agent Fest!

Amy is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Amy Stapp received her BA from Samford University and MA from Georgia State University before beginning her publishing career at Macmillan, where she was an editor for seven years and had the privilege of working with numerous New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Amy joined Wolfson Literary in December 2018 and continues to actively build her list, with interest in women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, upmarket book club fiction, historical fiction, young adult, and select nonfiction. She is particularly drawn to a high concept hook, well-paced prose, immersive settings, and smart, multidimensional characters. As an editorial agent, she enjoys working hand-in-hand with authors to take their work to the next level. Find her online at wolfsonliterary.com.

Check out Amy’s Wish List!

  • Fiction: twisty, intelligent suspense, upmarket book club fiction, women’s fiction that explores friendships and multigenerational ties, light magical realism
  • Historical Fiction from a new perspective
  • Young Adult Fiction: fast-paced, “unputdownable” story with a mature voice in a variety of genres—romance, mystery, historical, and unique coming-of-age stories
  • Always looking for stories from underrepresented voices and in diverse settings

MWW agent assistant Kat Higgs-Coulthard interviewed Amy about how her experience as a former editor informs her process as an agent. Kat’s writing has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack & Jill, Cleaver, and Women on Writing. In her role as Director of Michiana Writers’ Center in South Bend, Indiana, Kat loves working with young writers through summer camps and writing conferences.

MWW: How does your experience as a former editor at Macmillan inform your work as an agent?

AS: That’s really what sets me apart from other agents. It is incredibly helpful for my clients to work with someone who is already familiar with what the next steps are in terms of the marketing, publicity, and what to expect from a publishing house.

I just have an editorial eye, so people who work with me tend to be people who are already very talented but want to take their work to the next level. I know exactly how hard it is to get something through an acquisition board. Being aware of that behind-the-scenes process allows me to set my authors up for long-term success.

MWW: You represent multiple genres. How do you feel about authors who write across genres or age categories, like for instance a YA novelist who also writes middle grade?

AS: It’s always good to diversify, but there are different schools of thought. Some people will tell you it’s difficult to build a following or to grow your readership if you are constantly jumping around, but that tends to be more once you already have a contract with a house. The publisher will have a specific strategy for trying to build your brand and grow your audience.

But it’s not at all uncommon for authors to write in multiple genres over the years. I will always tell a writer to write the story of your heart even if the story of your heart right now is some outlandish project that you know you can’t sell. Some writers call it your “through book.” You have to write your way through it before you can tackle the one that will become a bestseller. Try not to be so focused on writing something just because you think it will sell, when really you have a whole different project on your mind. When your heart isn’t in it, it shows in your writing. You have to write what’s on your heart.

MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a pass from the agent?

AS: I talk about this in Queries Do’s and Don’ts (Thurs., Nov. 19, 11am ET), so you should come to my session [laughs]. For a query rejection, the only thing you can do is keep writing the next book, keep perfecting your craft. For one-on-one pitches at conferences like this, I think one of my biggest pet peeves is when a writer will try to convince me why I’m wrong about their manuscript. That’s not a valuable use of either of our time. If I say this story isn’t the right fit for me, that doesn’t mean the conversation needs to end. How often are you sitting across from an agent? Make use of your time with me to ask me questions about publishing, to ask questions about your comps or how to improve your pitch, anything at all. I come to conferences to be helpful and useful to you in any way I can.

MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a request for pages?

AS: The number one mistake I see people make is submitting before they’re really ready. Hopefully you’ve already workshopped it with critique partners and through your writers’ circle. Just because someone at a conference says ‘this sounds like a great pitch, I’d love to see more,’ does not mean you have to send it tomorrow. It’s fine to take a few weeks, even a few months, so you can take the time to make your manuscript the best it can possibly be before sending it to an agent. There is no rush. Play the long game.

MWW: With all the reading you do for work, how do you find time to read for pleasure?

AS: I have a library app on my phone and I get audio books from the library. Any time I’m washing dishes, walking the dog, doing laundry, or whatever it is, I am constantly listening to the new bestseller to keep up-to-date on what’s popular in the genres I’m trying to sell at the moment. (And let me tell you, the best authors are doing that as well. If you’re not current on what’s selling in your genre, you’re probably not ready to start querying agents yet.) The book on my nightstand right now is And Now She’s Gone. It’s a thriller by Rachel Howzell Hall. She’s incredible; everyone should go buy her book. Next up on my TBR pile is Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My tastes are pretty varied, from commercial bookclub favorites to upmarket women’s fiction, from lighthearted romcoms to dark and twisty thrillers, and everything in between.

There’s still time to register and pitch to Amy!

Pitch fiction & nonfiction to Jolene Haley at Agent Fest!

Jolene Haley is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Check out Jolene’s Wish List!

  • Broad range of MG and YA: especially contemporary, mystery, magical realism, romance, and horror.
  • Adult fiction: commercial women’s fiction, romance (all subgenres), mystery/crime, horror, and immersive literary fantasies.
  • Nonfiction: lifestyle, health, wellness, self-help, spiritualism, and true crime.

Jolene Haley joined the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2020 and has been in the publishing industry since 2012. She has worked for literary agencies and publishers like The Bent Agency, Corvisiero Literary Agency, Entangled Publishing, and Swoon Romance, and has an extensive background in marketing. Her well-rounded experience provides a unique perspective and a solid foundation to support authors as they build their careers.

Jolene represents middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction. She is drawn to original concepts, compelling characters, and stories with plot twists that keep her guessing. In all genres, she welcomes diverse stories and characters that reflect the world we live in. She graduated with accolades from Cal State Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Composition. She runs a global horror writer’s resource site The Midnight Society and is a member of ALA, HWA, and SCBWI. Follow Jolene on Twitter or Instagram.

MWW agent assistant Amanda Byk interviewed Jolene about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Amanda graduated from Ball State University with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing. She is a copywriter for Dealer Inspire out of Naperville, IL. She enjoys writing historical fiction and nonfiction and hopes to return to school for a Masters in Fiction.

MWW: How did you become an agent?

JH: I always knew I wanted to work with books. I joined the publishing industry in 2012, while earning my English degree. I started as an assistant who worked across teams at Entangled Publishing. This experience led me to taking on new roles in marketing, editing, and publicity teams at different publishers. Working for publishers was fantastic, but I was drawn to agenting.

I joined The Bent Agency as an intern and worked my way up at agencies until I became an agent. In 2020, I joined my dream agency, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, as a literary agent. Working alongside fantastic agents like Kevan, Jill, Patricia, Shannon, and Deborah is a dream. I feel grateful to champion amazing authors and that my job is to help bring stories into the world!

MWW: What are a few tips you would give to writers? What are some tips you have for writers on approaching agents?

JH: My best tips for querying writers are simple.

  1. Polish your book. Send your work when it’s done and not a moment sooner. You want the agent to see your best work when you query. Research book length, nail down your genre, write a polished query, and ensure that your manuscript is free of typos and grammar issues. There are fabulous free resources online to guide first time queriers, and by submitting polished work, you’re automatically setting yourself apart from other submissions and giving yourself a competitive edge.
  2. Follow submission rules. Most agencies and agents share their submission guidelines. Please follow them, as they are the best way to ensure that your query is seen, considered, and responded to.
  3. Don’t give up! Querying can feel hard. Putting yourself out there can be scary. But the payoff is worth it when you find the perfect agent for you and your work. Every query pass is one step closer to your future offer of representation.

MWW: What kind of manuscript do you favor/what kind do you hate getting?

JH: On my website, visitors can find submission guidelines and my wish list. I do this to help writers decide if I am a good fit for their work and to share more about my reading preferences. I currently accept middle grade, young adult, and adult manuscripts. In these age categories, I’m seeking a wide variety of genres, but my current favorites are horror, thrillers, mysteries, and romance.

There is not a type of manuscript that I hate to receive, however my wish list shares the type of work that I am not a great fit for, such as high fantasy, military thrillers, and pandemic stories. No matter what, I read every query and consider each submission that I receive.

MWW: What questions should new authors ask during the first meeting with the literary agent?

JH: I firmly believe that when meeting with an offering literary agent, authors should ask anything that they want to know about the agency, the agent, their agenting style, and their vision for the manuscript. Don’t be shy! For example, a great question for an agent is to describe their agenting style. If you feel like it’s important to have an editorial agent, and the agent shares that they are not editorial, you may not be a good match.

Here are four great questions that might be helpful to know before you make your decision:

  1. How does the agent communicate with their authors?
  2. Will you be working with the agent directly or with another agent/assistant?
  3. What types of changes do you think need to be made for your book? What is their editorial vision?
  4. What are the next steps after signing?

I have additional resources on my website, under the Writing Resources tab.

MWW: At the Agent Fest, you have a presentation on Building Your Author Platform to Elevate Your Career. How important would you say an online presence is and why?

JH: In my opinion, it is critical for authors to have an online presence. When I say that, I don’t mean that you have to make 20 social media accounts and spend all day posting instead of writing.

What I mean is, one of the most effective ways an author can have an effective online presence is through a website. Readers, editors, and agents need a place that they can go to learn more about you. Visitors should be able to find your agent information, a media kit (author photo and biography, at least), and book information with buy links. Of course, there are additional ways to optimize your presence online, but a website is a great place to start.

Still time to register and pitch to Jolene!

Pitch fiction & nonfiction to Latoya Smith at Agent Fest Online!

Latoya is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Latoya C. Smith started her editorial career as an administrative assistant to New York Times bestselling author, Teri Woods at Teri Woods Publishing while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree at Temple University. She graduated Cum Laude from Temple in August of 2005. She then attained a full-time position at Kensington Publishing in March of 2006. In October 2006, Latoya joined Grand Central Publishing, an imprint at Hachette Book Group. For the span of her eight years there, Latoya acquired a variety of titles from hardcover fiction and nonfiction, to digital romance and erotica. She was featured in Publishers Weekly, Forbes and USA Today, as well as on various author, book conference, and book blogger websites. In early 2014, she appeared on CSpan2 where she contributed to a panel discussing the state of book publishing. From August 2014 to February 2016, Latoya was Executive Editor at Samhain Publishing where she acquired short and long-form romance and erotic fiction. She is the winner of the 2012 RWA Golden Apple for Editor of the Year, 2017 Golden Apple for Agent of the Year, and the 2017 Literary Jewels Award for Editor of the Year. Latoya provides editorial services and literary representation through her company, LCS Literary Services.

 

Check out Latoya’s Wish List!

  • Fiction: women’s fiction, humor, thriller/suspense, romance (contemporary, paranormal, small-town, suspense, erotic, LGBTQ), young adult
  • Nonfiction: memoir, relationship, advice/how-to, self-help, business, sports, politics/social justice, pop culture, health/wellness

MWW agent assistant Allen Warren interviewed Latoya about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Allen is an English Studies major at Ball State University. He is also managing editor for the Digital Literature Review and assistant fiction editor & event/writing series coordinator for Ball State’s literary magazine The Broken Plate.

MWW: What got you interested in becoming a literary agent? 

LS: I worked as an acquisitions editor for over 10 years and was laid off from my job. Based on my contacts, a really good friend thought I’d make a great agent. So, I joined her agency in 2016. I later began agenting for my own company in 2018.

MWW: Who have been some of your more recent clients, and how did you promote them? 

LS: Kimberly L. Jones, Kondwani Fidel, Kristin Vayden and LaQuette to name a few. In regards to promotion, I speak about my clients whenever I can at whatever stage of the process they are in. For example, if a client is in early development, I’ll bring up their concepts as I speak to editors to try and garner early interest. Once sold, I am actively promoting them and their projects on my social media and at conferences and events, by spreading the word and offering my help and support however I can.

MWW: What are the number-one things you recommend attendees pitching ideas to do and NOT to do? 

LS: Be passionate, confident and practice so that you won’t feel as nervous because you know your stuff. However, try not to waste your time making light conversation. You’ll lose valuable time like that. Instead, begin with your greeting and move right into your pitch so that you can leave room for questions at the end.

MWW: What makes a manuscript stand out to you? What will make it sink? 

LS: Strong first pages, with a clear sense of who these characters are and why I should care about them. If the project is riddled with typos, confusing, or just uninteresting, I will stop reading.

MWW: Finally, what have you been reading during quarantine? 

LS: Romance and women’s fiction along with some thrillers.

Also on Latoya’s schedule for Agent Fest Online:

  • First Page Read – Love It or Leave It, “Okay, Stop” – with Latoya Smith, Alice Speilburg, Shannon Kelly. This is a chance to get your first page read (anonymously — no bylines given) with our attending agents/editors commenting on what was liked or not liked about the submission. Get expert feedback on your incredibly important first lines and know if your writing has what it needs to keep readers’ attention.
  • Working With An Agent: Writers will learn the tools needed to successfully partner with the right agent. This includes:  Preparing Your Written and Verbal Pitch.  Finding the Right Agent.  What Your Agent Should Bring to the Table.  How You Should Use Your Agent.  Building Your Platform. When to Part Ways With Your Agent.
  • You’ve Got A Book Deal, Now What?: Writers will learn what happens after they’ve been offered a deal (per traditional publisher standards). This includes: Contract Negotiation Points.  Welcome Materials from Your Publisher. The Editorial Process.  Importance of Cover Art and Cover Copy. Publicity and Marketing Strategies. Sales and Distribution. Useful Tips.
  • Agents/Author Conversation: How an agent works with an author — Agents Cherry Weiner and Latoya Smith and author Larry D. Sweazy

Join us for a Facebook Live “Conversation with John Gilstrap”

Midwest Writers Workshop presents another installment of our “Conversation with an Author” series.

Join us for a Facebook Live on Friday, October 23, from 4:00 pm ET to 5:00 pm for a Conversation with MWW fave John GilstrapNew York Times bestselling author of the Jonathan Grave thriller series. John will chat with MWW director Jama Kehoe Bigger about his new series (The Crimson Phoenix), creativity, the writing process, revising, and the writing life.

Here’s the Zoom link.

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of 23 thrillers (including the Jonathan Grave series), and a new series, the first of which, CRIMSON PHOENIX will be released in February 2021. The Crimson Phoenix series takes his work in an entirely new direction: in it, World War III lasts about eight hours, and when it’s done, the United States is left in ruins. With all the infrastructure gone, and elected leaders unable to communicate with people outside of the bunkers that protected official Washington, it falls to individual citizens to figure out a way to continue living. It doesn’t take long for the weak to turn feral. In one corner of West Virginia, though, a single mom named Victoria Emerson turns out to be the leader that everyone’s been looking for.

“I write thrillers about normal people who get caught up in extraordinary circumstances” Gilstrap says. “I write about fathers and mothers and children who somehow find the will and the wherewithal to suck up the panic and fight on. They’re heroic, but they would never consider themselves to be heroes. Mostly, they would consider themselves to be survivors.”

Subscribe to John’s YouTube Channel
Like him on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter

 

Join us on Friday, Oct 23rd at 4pm ET for this fun discussion!