Writer + agent = MWW success

MWW12 participant Summer Heacock (@Fizzygrrl) shared the good news that she is now represented by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd.

How did that happen? They met at MWW!

Q: So what’s the story, Summer?

Let’s see. Here is a Cliff’s Notes version of my agent tale:  When I signed up for MWW12 I was actually planning to pitch my YA/Fantasy manuscript. In the time between registering and the actual conference, I ended up trunking the YA and focusing on revising my Women’s Fiction manuscript written four years ago. I had queried if and obviously not reached the finish line the first time around.

On the last day of the workshop, I ended up with a fantastically dramatic request from Sarah that turned into interest in a full manuscript a few days later. From there she sent me amazing notes for an R&R (Revise and Resubmit) and I worked on those and ate my body weight in Jelly Bellies while I did.

I had some very random and possibly terrifying interactions with other agents who were considering the manuscript as this was all going on, but ever since I met Sarah at MWW, she was the one I was holding my breath for. Once she had the revisions, I soon had an offer from another agent and had to send the fabled OFFER OF REP email to Sarah literally while she was in the middle of Hurricane Sandy.  So, that was weird…

After well, you know, her office was opened again a week later after storm insanity, she got the manuscript, and a few days later, emailed me to set up The Call.  I tried to be very suave about everything, but after hearing her notes and ideas, when she officially offered me representation, I was all but yelping YES into the phone.

Q: In your opinion, why should readers of our newsletter register for MWW13?
Because it’s awesome. Seriously. Aside from being impeccably run and more organized than a writer’s gathering has any right to be, I have never learned so much about the industry in such a short time.  One of the things that makes a conference in Indiana special is that we are never going to be as jam packed as bigger cities. It made meeting people and connecting with the professionals a dream.  I made friends that I still talk to and see regularly. And well, it ended up with my landing an agent, so, yeah. You can count me as a big ol’ fan.

Q: How do you put those cool moving photos on your blog?

Oh man, the GIFs (a special moving type of picture) are my favorite part of blogging. I swear, I get a bigger kick out of them than anyone. I will literally be sitting in bed laughing like a crazy person for an hour while I search.

I use Google and hope for the best. I search the Internet and sometimes come across really hilarious or appropriate ones and giggle until it hurts. My husband, Drew, is also a computer ninja and makes them for me occasionally.

Q: Do you plan to make MWW 2013?  And lastly, where are you from?

YES.  Yes, I really do.  It is a very genuine dream of mine to one day be a speaker or faculty at one of the Workshops. So yes, I will be there until someone bars me from returning, 🙂 And I live in Lebanon, Indiana.

NOTE: Kelsey Timmerman gets the excitement on video!

MWW12: Summer Heacock's big news!
MWW12: Summer Heacock’s big news!

TWEET from Sarah LaPolla @sarahlapolla

That video makes me totally miss the whole @MidwestWriters crew. Conferences really do work, writers! Find ones in your area & attend them.

Memories of MWW12

In the words of The A-Team’s Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

All that planning, all that organizing, all that creative energy from the Midwest Writers Workshop committee, faculty, tutors and volunteers sure paid off. According to evaluations, tweets, posts and blogs, the 39th MWW was a huge success!

This was the summer of the 30th Summer Olympics; it was also the summer of gold-medal performances from the MWW faculty at the Midwest Writers Workshop! While the Olympic athletes were pursuing “Faster, Higher, Stronger!”, the MWW participants were pursuing “Better, Finer, Fresher!”

Of the 170 writers at MWW12, most were Midwesterners, but others traveled from 13 states, coast to coast. Repeatedly overheard during the three days was MWW’s great sense of community, its relaxed atmosphere for all ages and writing levels, from the 16 year olds to the 80 year olds. The planning committee is proud that we’ve created The Midwest Writers Workshop Community, overflowing with hospitality, friendliness, and personal attention.

We didn’t give participants much time to turn sideways as the days were packed with sessions on craft, business, social media consultations, manuscript evaluations, query letter critiques, agent pitches. What struck Lee Martin about MWW was “the broad stroke with an emphasis on craft.”

We were rewarded to see writers energized and enthused, learning and growing. We continued the successful and popular sessions: Manuscript Makeover, Message in a Bottle Readings, Buttonhole the Experts. Then we added extras this year: in-class writing craft sessions, social media consultations, query letter critiques. The brilliant Ball State social media tutors offered free consulting sessions and helped 50 participants learn how to use Facebook, Twitter, and blogs effectively. We also had a live Twitter feed set up in the atrium which streamed Twitter posts throughout the workshop.

So much great advice… so much fun… so much community. Literary citizenship. Tax information for writers. Inside the world of publishing. Building your website. And such wonderful interaction between faculty and attendees… that we’ll award our faculty Gold Medals!

Bragging…

“The 30 pitches I heard at MWW were better than the 170 I heard recently at a west coast writers’ conference.” — Kathleen Ortiz, literary agent, New Leaf Literary & Media

“This has been one of the best conferences I’ve yet attended.” — Brooks Sherman, FinePrint Literary Management

“As I tell everyone who will listen, MWW is the best writers’ conference there is!” — D.E. Johnson

“What an amazing batch of writers you have there — the participants’ talent is remarkable. I’ve rarely encountered that many truly talented non-published authors, and never all in one place at one time before. You’ve created a fabulous garden to grow writers. Thank you for allowing me to be part of it this year! And… personally… I had a blast! Everyone was so welcoming and warm.” – Julie Hyzy

“Just wanted to let you know I am proud to say I was a part of the 39th MWW! You and your committee have truly fostered a family-like atmosphere for both the faculty and the attendees, and it was great to feel like a member of the group. I have already started to receive material and I am looking forward to seeing if I can make a match!” — JL Stermer, Literary Agent, N.S. Bienstock, Inc.

“I wanted to let you know how great the conference was. You did a fantastic job creating a friendly atmosphere for everyone involved. Thanks so much for inviting me and I hope you’ll remember me for next year!” — Sarah LaPolla, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

“Each year I come home saying this was the best MWW yet, and I said it again this year. A big thank you to you and your committee for a wonderfully organized and presented workshop. You always seem to anticipate what we writers need to know, and you provide excellent professionals to share that needed expertise. This year’s social media consultants were a perfect addition for those of us who require an informed “nudge” into the world of twitter, blogs, etc. My tech savvy son will be shocked when he receives a tweet from me–that will give me splendid satisfaction 🙂 I appreciate all of the hard work, knowing a workshop the caliber of MWW doesn’t just happen.  Ah, I am among friends and fellow writers here. — Sally Nalbor

Tweeting:

Jeffrey Ashby @JeffreyAshby: @jamabigger and the whole #MWW12 crew, because of MWW I had a short story published and even won an Editor’s Choice in Indiana Crime 2012!

Kelsey Timmerman @KelseyTimmerman: My favorite moment of #MWW12 was watching @Fizzygrrl tell @jamabigger about her agent pitch sessions. Can’t wait for #MWW13!

Brooks Sherman @byobrooks: Thanks, @jamabigger & @MidwestWriters, for a great conference! @KOrtizzle, @sarahlapolla & I agree it’s 1 of the best we’ve attended! #MWW12

Kathleen Ortiz @KOrtizzle: @byobrooks and @sarahlapolla were a blast to hang with this weekend at #mww12.

Summer Heacock @Fizzygrrl: So, #MWW12 was pretty much the most amazing thing ever. I am so glad I went, and big snergles to all the wonderful new friends I’ve made!!

Jessica Montgomery @JessyMontgomery: I was so glad that #mww12 was the first conference I attended. It was everything I thought it would be and more! I can’t wait to come back!

Erica O’Rourke @Erica_ORourke: Blown away by all the smart, dedicated people at #mww12. One of the best conferences I’ve been to. Thanks for an amazing time, guys!

Aaron D. Hoover @hooverad: Writer friends, you NEED to come to #mww12 next year (when it will be #mww13). It has remedied the deficiencies in my education AMAZINGLY.

Truly, all participants will describe their MWW 2012 experience differently. You just had to be there. Because in the end, it’s the attendees, swooping in with their enthusiasm, talent and energy, who make MWW what it is. None of us wanted it to end. And, in a way, it goes on, as we incorporate what we learned into our writing over the coming months. And as our MWW Community stays connected via SOCIAL MEDIA!

If you weren’t able to attend this year, we missed you! And we hope to see you for the 40th annual MWW, July 25-27 2013. We can hardly wait!

Trust us: We will keep asking writers what they like, what they want, and what we can do to keep wowing the heck out of them.

Gallery: 2012 Midwest Writers Workshop

Interview with agent Brooks Sherman

Meet Brooks Sherman!

Introducing one more agent coming to this summer’s Midwest Writers Workshop.

Q. Another MWW 2012 faculty member Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest interviewed you in the past. Is this information still correct?
About Brooks

Brooks : Brooks Sherman is thrilled to be living once more in Brooklyn, after a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in bucolic West Africa and a one-year stint in the savage jungles of Hollywood. He joined FinePrint Literary Management as an intern in 2010 and now, as an associate agent, is actively seeking a range of both fiction and nonfiction projects. You can find him on Twitter at @byobrooks.

He is seeking

: On the adult side, literary and upmarket fiction running the gamut from contemporary (with an eye toward multicultural or satirical) to speculative (particularly urban/contemporary fantasy, horror/dark fantasy, and slipstream). Brooks also has a weakness for historical fiction and a burgeoning interest in crime fiction. For nonfiction, he is particularly interested in works that focus on current events, history, and pop science/sociology. On the children’s side, he is looking to build a list of boy-focused Middle Grade novels (all subgenres, but particularly fantasy adventure and contemporary), and is open to YA fiction of all types except paranormal romance.

Brooks is specifically seeking projects that balance strong voice with gripping plot lines; he particularly enjoys flawed (but sympathetic) protagonists and stories that organically blur the lines between genres. Stories that make him laugh earn extra points. Recent favorites include Whiteman by Tony D’Souza, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, the Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey, The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer, and Horns by Joe Hill.
All still true!

Q. How do you think attending a writing conference and speaking with you personally helps an author seeking representation and have you found some of your clients at writing conferences?

I have not yet signed a client from a writing conference, but I am looking forward to the day it happens! I think writing conferences can be invaluable experiences for writers, as they help you network in the larger writing community, as well as give you face-to-face time with publishing professionals and get answers to those questions you’ve been dying to ask. I don’t often give detailed feedback in my responses to queries I receive — I simply don’t have the time in my day-to-day work — but I make a point of giving specific, constructive feedback to any writer I sit down with at a conference.

Q. In addition to the above, please be as specific about the fiction you are seeking as possible, to include whether you represent category romance, thrillers, and women’s fiction? Any type of fiction that is a definite rejection from you or any action or approach that you dislike?

I am seeking thrillers, but I’m afraid I am not the right agent for category romance or women’s fiction. As for approaches I dislike, I’ll echo what a lot of my fellow agents have to say on this matter: if I pass on your query or your manuscript, it does not help your case to argue with me. Also, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of other literary agents out there beyond me — why waste your time trying to convince someone who didn’t connect with your project to work with you? Ideally, you want your agent to be someone who loves your work, and who will champion it to publishers.

Q. What are some insider tips for making a successful pitch to you and how should someone who did not get an official pitch session approach you (if you are okay with that)?

The best advice I can tell you when pitching an agent or editor is simply this: relax! I know it can seem like a lot of pressure, you having to sum up your entire novel or nonfiction project in a few sentences, but believe me, if I see that you’re nervous, it’s going to make me nervous. (Then we’re both going to feel awkward together.) For me, the best pitch is when a writer is simply talking about their project with pride, enthusiasm, and excitement — a pitch with that kind of energy behind it will shine. Also, if I connect with your pitch, I’m probably going to start asking you questions, so be prepared to have a conversation instead of delivering a speech!

Q. Would you like to add anything else about general tips for writers?

Lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of queries for self-published books. I’m afraid I’m almost always going to pass on these projects, and it’s not because I have a problem with self-publishing. (Actually, I’m pleased that the digital revolution has done so much to erase the stigma that self-publishing has labored under.) The hard truth is that unless you’ve already sold thousands of copies of your self-published book, I’m going to have a great deal of difficulty convincing a publisher to buy it, because it already is published, and they aren’t going to acquire it now unless they’re convinced it is worth their investment. So, if you’ve just self-published your book, and you’re looking for the next step, you would probably best be served at this time seeking a publicist or marketing strategist, rather than an agent. Once you’ve garnered some respectable sales, it will be easier to generate some interest from a traditional publisher, and then you can decide whether you want to work with an agent.

 

Interview with agent Sarah LaPolla

Meet Sarah LaPolla!

LaPolla Sarah LaPolla is an associate agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She studied creative writing at Ithaca College, and has an MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. She joined Curtis Brown, Ltd. in 2008 as the assistant to the foreign rights department, and became an associate agent in 2010. Sarah represents both adult and YA fiction. For adult books, she is looking for literary fiction, urban fantasy, magical realism, mystery, literary horror, and has a soft spot for short story collections. On the YA side, she welcomes contemporary/realistic fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, mystery, and horror. No matter what age the intended audience, Sarah tends to be drawn to voice-driven narratives, strong female protagonists, and complex characters.  Sarah runs a literary blog called Glass Cases and can be found on Twitter.

Q. What is the advantage to writers meeting and pitching you at a conference and do you think they are more serious and perhaps their decision comes faster, as examples? Have you found clients at conferences in the past?

I haven’t found a client at a conference yet, but I have made requests at conferences that I might not have just through receiving a query. I think writers who pay to go to conferences are serious, but I don’t think writers who can’t do that are any less serious. That said, being able to speak with a writer in person makes a difference. If I need a writer to elaborate on query, it usually means the story isn’t being conveyed well enough. I don’t have time to engage in a conversation with everyone who queries me, so those usually just get rejected. In person, I’m able to ask questions and see their enthusiasm for their novel.

Q. We have a list of what you don’t want in the comments that follow. What exactly are you looking for, and please be specific. For example, suspense and thrillers are not easy to define. Are you looking for either and please give a quick description of what they are?

I represent both YA and adult fiction, and the genres I look for in both of those categories run pretty parallel. I prefer contemporary stories to historical, unless there’s a very good reason for it to be historical. For “genre” fiction, I love horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy, but I look for the word “literary” before any of those headings. Think Shirley Jackson as opposed to Dean Koontz for horror, or Gillian Flynn rather than Sue Grafton for mystery. If I’m not in love with the characters, it’s hard for me to pay attention to much else. I also love magical realism, which is hard to define and is a very specific type of writing. My quick definition is: A subgenre of literary fiction that infuses fantastic/surreal elements to the story that are not essential to the plot.

Q. What else would you like to say? Also, I’ve seen that you are not keen on self-publishing. Why not?

I’m actually quite keen on self-publishing, but if you asked me this question two years ago I may have answered differently. I still think traditional publishing is a better route for most writers, but in some cases self-publishing is actually the better option. I think the quality of writing in self-publishing has gotten better because writers are voluntarily choosing it now. They know that a good book needs editing and marketing, and they are doing the jobs of ten different people to get their book in the hands of readers. Not all writers want to do that or even can do that, but the ones who are deserve to be taken seriously. A few years ago, it felt as if self-publishing was where writers went after they got too many rejections, and the quality of the work reflected that. That still happens, for sure, but the self-publishing landscape is definitely moving forward and I respect it for becoming a legitimate force in the industry.

Q. Do you have a personal list of automatic rejection criteria for queries and submissions?

I answer everything I receive with usually a form rejection, and then a personal rejection if it’s something I requested. (Or, the better case scenario, with an offer of representation!) There are two exceptions: When a query is attached instead of in the body of the email, it gets instantly deleted. The other “delete-without-being-read” query is when I see other agents copied on it. Writers should query multiple agents simultaneously, but they should be choosing specific agents they think will be a good fit for them. Mass emails show carelessness and a lack of professionalism.

Q. What premises or plot twists are you tired of seeing in your inbox?

1) Teenage girl or boy leads a normal life until he or she meets [insert love interest and/or paranormal creature here].

2) Main character’s parents are dead/neglectful/drunk/other excuse for absent, so main character must find self-actualization through a “wild” best friend or perfect soul mate.

3) A main or supporting character is or becomes a vampire, werewolf, or zombie. (Sadly, this is still all-too-common in my query pile.)

4) Dystopian worlds that don’t do anything new with the genre. I love dystopian, but it’s too hard to sell in the post-Hunger Games market so 99% of the time I have to pass on it. Conspiratorial governments, characters living in a post-apocalyptic world, and the one girl or boy (sometimes with super powers) who’s meant to save the day are the “basic” elements of dystopian that can’t stand on their own anymore.

Interview with agent JL Stermer

Meet JL Stermer!

Introducing another New York agent you can pitch to if you register for Part II of Midwest Writers Workshop:

StermerJL Stermeris an agent in the literary division of talent agency N.S. Bienstock. She is currently seeking both fiction and nonfiction. On the fiction side, she’d love to see both commercial and literary fiction as well as graphic novels. On the nonfiction side, she is looking for cookbooks and food-related narratives, prescriptive health, diet, and fitness, how-to, reference, narrative nonfiction, current events-related projects and all things pop-culture (science, business, technology, art, music, humor, crafts, DIY.)

Always looking for fresh and exciting projects, JL brings her enthusiasm to clients while helping them navigate the world of book publishing. From spotting trends, to finding the right editorial match for a project, she takes pride in being involved with her clients every step of the way. JL also teaches a class at the Gotham Writers Workshop: How to Get Published. Prior to joining N.S. Bienstock, she was an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Born and raised in New York City, and a graduate of Columbia University, she currently resides in Manhattan solidifying that she is forever a city girl through and through.

Q: What are you looking for right now and not getting?

I’d love to see some fiction that reflects some of today’s more interesting “reality” projects … a protagonist who is:

….a judge (or contestant or a behind-the-scenes staff member) on a talent/food/addiction/fashion/weight-loss show

….on the front lines of current political revolutions/weather disasters/culture wars

….a social media developer/maven

…basically I am looking for any characters we might see in our daily lives (in all forms of media) and think: “I wonder what their days are like?”

In nonfiction, I am always looking for people with fresh twists on ideas that have been strong sellers in pop science, food, technology, health, diet, exercise. Nonfiction’s greatest hits!

Q: What’s your best piece(s) of advice?

One of the things I stress in the classes I teach at Gotham Writers Workshop is persistence. When submitting query letters persistence is key, but authors must be smart about their approach as well.  Make sure you have a well-curated list of agents you are going to query. Make sure they are truly a good fit for you. Keep meticulous notes during the process. And if you get any constructive criticism–do not be defensive and shrug it off–see if you can use it to make your pitch better. So many people give up after a few rejections. Keep the process moving by honing your letter as well as your manuscript/book proposal. And stay positive!! This is a hard one, I know, but bitter and frustrated authors send out that vibe and I can always sense it–in person and even in query letters…you are selling your project, sell it with a smile on your face.

Q:  How do you think attending a writing conference and speaking with you personally helps an author seeking representation and have you found some of your clients at writing conferences?

Attending a conference helps make it “real” for so many people. For the many writers who are cocooned in their own worlds, oftentimes this is the first chance they get to really identify as an author–to meet an agent, give their pitch and take that step into the business side of writing. I like to think I give authors confidence and inspiration (even if I am offering a critique). I try to take the scary element out of the equation by answering questions and being an attentive listener. As to clients, I do have a handful who I have met at writer’s conferences, but most of them are still works-in-progress. I have faith in them!

Q. In addition to the above, please be specific about the fiction you are seeking, to include whether you represent category romance, thrillers, and women’s fiction?

I am not looking for category romance. My colleague Paul Fedorko is always looking for a great thriller (WWII stories are his go-to favorite) so I am always happy to pass something great to him. And as for women’s fiction, yes please. Commercial and up market are welcome and I am very open regarding topic. As long as I am connecting with a distinctive voice and feel invested in a complex protagonist, I will follow her anywhere.

Q. What are some insider tips for making a successful pitch to you and how should someone who did not get an official pitch session approach you (if you are okay with that)?

One of the most important things is to take a deep breath and smile. Try to shake those nerves when you sit down for a one-on-one. Having your pitch be concise is important–you don’t have a lot of time to get it all in. I’d like to meet the protagonist right away as well as a few secondary characters, but not too many. If you try to cover everyone, you run the risk of losing me as I try to keep up with you…

As far as approaching me outside of an official pitch session, I’m okay with this but I’d rather not be pitched in the bathroom (!) or while I am chatting with another person. Other than that–that’s why I am here, to meet everyone and see if I can find a good match!

Interview with agent Kathleen Ortiz

Meet Kathleen Ortiz!

Time is running out! If you’ve been waiting to register for MWW 2012, do so now and pitch your book to an agent yet this summer. Plus, get valuable knowledge to take your writing career to the next level, or five!

Once again, MWW brings four New York agents to our workshop and offers participants registered for Part II the opportunity to pitch their manuscript ideas.

K OrtizKathleen Ortiz is the Subsidiary Rights Director and Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. On the children’s side, she is interested in acquiring all genres of YA (she especially gravitates to darker YA), but would specifically love a beautifully told story set within another culture (historical or modern, in the vein of Blood Diamond or Memoirs of a Geisha). She’s also looking for darker middle grade for older kids (especially in the vein of Labyrinth). On the adult side, she’s looking for lifestyle or technology non-fiction, as well as urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Please, no picture books, chapter books or adult books outside of romance.

Q. Please explain what you think the advantages are from your POV of meeting a potential writer client at a writers’ conference. Have you signed clients at conference?

Some advantages of meeting someone in person at a conference are getting to know them face-to-face and being able to see their passion for their work. I’ve never signed someone from a conference (though I certainly still have hope! I’m here, right? :)), but my colleague, Joanna Volpe, has! In fact, she signed three from this conference a couple of years ago: Veronica Roth, New York Times bestselling author of Divergent and Insurgent (Katherine Tegan books, Harper), Megan Powell (No Peace For The Damned, 47North, Amazon), and Rita Woods.

Q. What is the advantage for a writer who meets you at a conference, meaning is the wait for a decision shorter, do you look at a manuscript differently having met the author and are you more likely to request based on meeting someone?

I don’t look at the manuscript differently, because at the end of the day, it’s the writing and story that matter most. There are many, very nice people who query me whose stories just aren’t quite right for my list now. However with conferences, I do try to get back more quickly to those who pitch me than those who query me via our traditional submission guidelines.

Q. Sometimes writers have trouble knowing what their manuscript’s genre is and/or their story has elements from several genres. How does this cause challenges in representation and what can a writer do about this?

If an agent is looking for one genre and not another, it can definitely hurt their chances of even having a query read. For example, I’m not really open to YA paranormal at the moment. If your MS is really a sci-fi but you pitch it as paranormal, I might feel that you’re telling me it’s light on the sci-fi and heavy on the paranormal. On the flip side, if you have a YA paranormal and you try to pitch to me as sci-fi (to avoid being rejected on genre alone), and I can tell it’s paranormal, I’m going to assume you’re not well read in the genre, which means the worldbuilding and characters may be lacking.

Q. Would you like to add anything else to help writers prepare for a pitch to you and/or what are the most common mistakes you see?

Don’t talk for the ENTIRE pitch. Write a 2 sentence pitch. Keep it under 30-40 seconds. Then wait for the agent to comment / ask for more. If you talk the whole time, it doesn’t leave us much room to give feedback / ask questions. You WANT us to ask questions / want us to want more. It can be nerve wracking to pitch for the first time, but I promise you I’m not mean. I don’t bite. And I’ve not made anyone cry (so far). So I promise I’m nice 🙂

Follow her on Twitter: @KOrtizzle

kortizzle.blogspot.com

Interview with mystery novelist Julie Hyzy

Meet MWW faculty member Julie Hyzy: Mystery novelist, winner of Anthony and Barry Awards

Today’s leading authors and experts in the publishing industry will be on hand at the Midwest Writers Workshop this July, delivering insightful presentations, offering answers to those burning questions writers face, and helping fill in details on “what’s next.”

Note: Reading the work(s) of the faculty helps to maximize the conference experience. In fact, members of the MWW committee have already begun reading. It’s tough work, but somebody’s got to do it!

MWW Committee Member Cathy Shouse recently interviewed Julie Hyzy, author of the White House Chef Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime.

HyzyQ. Our family is going on vacation to Washington D.C. and I’m taking State of the Onion, (first in the series) for the car ride. How much research do you do for the D.C. series? Is your research ongoing or do you have it nailed after writing several?

Great question and I’m jealous that you’re visiting D.C. I love that city and — to answer your question — I’m always researching. What constantly amazes me is how ideas can pop when you least expect them. My family and I were there last June and even though I’ve been to D.C. for research many times over the years, it felt fresh and new, the way it always does. There’s always some great moment or location or experience that makes me glad I visited.

There are currently five books published in the White House Chef series and number six will be out in January. Even better I just signed a contract for three more for a total of nine. I’m excited.

Interestingly enough, I just signed a contract for three more Grace books (Manor House Mysteries) as well. That’s another series I adore researching. Because the stories are set at a mansion/tourist attraction/museum, I have all the excuse I need to visit places like the Hearst Castle in California, Ca d’Zan in Florida, and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, which — incidentally — is where the Manor House mysteries are set.

Q. Tell us about your journey to publication. 

I started writing short stories. Sure, I attempted a novel (nobody has read it and no one ever will) but I was convinced I didn’t have the stick-to-it-tive-ness to finish an entire manuscript so I focused on short stories instead. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and saw my first few professional publications (in a Star Trek anthology). A friend from my writing group suggested I try my hand at a novel. Initially I demurred, thinking that I’d never finish it and it would turn out to be a colossal waste of time. But I did finish. Even better, I loved the experience so very much that I wrote another, and another.

Through all this I did not have an agent. That first finished manuscript sold to Five Star, as did the next two (these two were my first-ever series — The Alex St. James Mysteries). Was I thrilled? Absolutely. Because the books came out in hardcover, I was getting reviews and a little bit of notice. It was right about that time that a third party approached me about writing the White House Chef series and I jumped at the chance. Still no agent, mind you. It wasn’t until State of the Onion was published that I could get an agent to notice me.

Q. How will your intense session (“Writing the Cozy Mystery Novel”) at MWW this summer be structured and what types of secrets will you reveal? Any hints?

Hmm…. if I share the secrets, then no one will want to come to the talk <grin>.

Actually, I have a very conversational style and I get very excited talking about writing: the craft, the perseverance necessary, the ideas that threaten to burst if we don’t get them written down. I participated in an extremely intense two-week workshop about ten years ago and that experience has shaped me and my writing in profound ways. I hope to be able to engage participants the way I was engaged back then. There is so much to discuss on writing, especially crime fiction writing and I’m itching to get to it. Can you tell how much I’m looking forward to this workshop?

Q. Has attending conferences been an influence on your career?  If so, how?

I believe that attending conferences has had a *huge* influence on my career. Listening to panels of authors who are higher up the ladder than I am is always an eye opener and the lessons I’ve learned are invaluable.

Q. What else would you like to add to entice readers to sign for your course?

Well, there are those secrets that I haven’t spilled yet… If anyone wants to know what they are, they’d better sign up! Just kidding. I think I bring a level of enthusiasm and positive energy to my presentations. Writing is a solitary endeavor and the constant rejection can really get a person down. There are ways to look at things, and ways to look at things. Plus, I’m a meat and potatoes girl. By that I mean I like to talk about the nitty gritty parts of writing. I like to try to identify trouble spots and work on them. Not paint everything with a one-solution-fits-all swath. If that appeals, I hope you’ll sign up.

Q. What do you recommend as top three must-see stops while in D.C. and have you ever been in the White House kitchen? If so, please spill the details!

Top three stops in D.C. … Ooh, there are so many. The White House is my top choice, absolutely, but one usually needs to arrange for a visit at least six months in advance. Because it’s tough to get in, I’ll pick three additional choices (see how cleverly I managed to give myself four?) I think a stop at Arlington National Cemetery is a must, especially taking the time to visit the Tomb of the Unknown. If you’re able to watch a wreath-laying ceremony, you’ll be glad you took the time. The quiet, the reverence, and the peacefulness there make this a stop you won’t forget. I would also take a walking tour of the monuments. I can’t begin to choose one monument over another, so I’d strongly suggest doing the entire walk and seeing them all. They’re awe-inspiring and beautiful, each in its own way. Lastly, it’s hard to choose between a visit to the Capitol (also best if pre-arranged) and time spent at The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian, as you know, is a collection of wonderful museums all along the National Mall. We spent hours in the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, and we wandered around the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. Admission is free and there are so many other museums there (also the zoo) we didn’t have time to see. Our most recent family trip took us to several cities over two weeks and the kids, by far, loved D.C. the best. Fabulous city.

You asked if I’d ever been to the White House kitchen. Yep, I have — for the first time on this trip with the kids. I was lucky enough to have turned my ankle while walking at Arlington the day before our White House visit and, while there, I asked if there was any way to get to the first floor from the ground floor other than taking the stairs. (Keep in mind, I have the entire floor plan memorized from all my research.) As it turned out, there happens to be an elevator right next to the kitchen. Imagine that! A very nice uniformed Secret Service agent escorted me (not the family) through the restricted area and through the back corridors, past the kitchen, which I was thrilled to finally see. It’s small. I know I’ve mentioned that in the books, but it was even smaller than it looks in pictures. I was so excited to get my own “private” tour of the back, working areas and I knew that I’d be able to add even more detail to the next book because of it.

Thanks again for these great questions!

Best,

Julie

New York Times bestselling author of AFFAIRS OF STEAK

www.juliehyzy.com

http://juliehyzy.blogspot.com/

Pitch Perfect: expert tips to snag an agent

Meet Chuck Sambuchino!

Chuck Sambuchino is an editor for Writer’s Digest Books (an imprint of F+W Media) and is the editor of Guide to Literary Agents as well as Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. He also oversaw the third edition of Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript. Chuck has instructed on writing and publishing at more than 50 writing events in the past five years, including presentations in Italy and Canada, and he is sometimes one of the conference’s keynote speakers. His humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack (2010), was featured by Reader’s Digest, USA Today, The New York Times and AOL News.

Chuck is also a writer and freelance editor. He is a produced playwright, with both original and commissioned works produced. He is a magazine freelancer, with more than 600 of his articles appearing in print. His website–the Guide to Literary Agents blog–is one of the largest blogs on writing & publishing.

Chuck is the the keynote speaker for the opening of MWW Part II on Thursday evening. You will not want to miss his presentation, Mastering the In-person Pitch.  This is a chance for Part II participants to practice their “agent pitch.”  Chuck will critique the pitch for all to hear. Individuals can pitch or simply attend to listen in on other pitches. It’s an opportunity for writers to rehearse their elevator pitch before sitting face-to-face with agents. This session targets fiction and nonfiction writers, both novice and intermediate; and it breaks down what needs to be in a pitch, and what NOT to include in a pitch. Chuck will listen to sample pitches to help you prepare for your pitch with an agent on Friday or Saturday.

New this year, MWW offers a Query Critique with Chuck Sambuchino (or Jane Friedman). For an additional fee of $35, you can meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation with either Chuck or Jane. The deadline is July 1st, so register NOW if you want to take advantage of this great opportunity!

MWW intern Linda Taylor recently interviewed Chuck about his appearance at this summer’s workshop.

Q. First and most important, my husband and I have a few garden gnomes in our yard, several around our house, and one on the flag out front that says “Welcome Gnome.” I assume we should be worried?

Very worried. Gnomes cannot be trusted under any circumstances. These gnomes outside are no doubt probing your outer defenses at this very minute, looking for weaknesses.

Q. Second, and more on a serious note, how does such an unusual and interesting idea like that become a book? What do you tell potential authors about their ideas for books–even the really unusual ideas? (After all, someone thought putting Jane Austen with zombies would be a good idea . . .)

Nonfiction books simply need three elements to come to life: 1) a unique or interesting idea, 2) proof that an audience exists to buy it, and 3) an author with platform who can sell books. Even very unusual ideas, such as GNOME, can come to life, as long as those three elements are in place. From a writing perspective, you would pitch a book on New York architecture the same way you would pitch one on a history of unicorns: by addressing elements 1, 2 and 3.

Q. Briefly describe your journey as a writer–from your bio on your blog, you appear to have done a lot of types of writing from newspapers and magazines, to writing scripts, to writing articles and books (the latter ranging from resource manuals to humor). When did you first decide to become a writer and how did your path lead you to where you are today?

In high school, I was always the one in the group who could tell a story the best. I didn’t realize it, but that was the origin of me as a writer. In college, I majored in public relations and then decided I didn’t want a job in PR, so I took an entry-level position with a weekly newspaper when out of school. I got promoted to reporter and also started freelancing for magazines on the side. This gave me some writing cred when I applied to Writer’s Digest Books. Once I joined WD books, I started writing plays and books, and saw success with both. During the day, I am an editor for WD Books, and during the night, I write humor books and screenplays. (That’s the short version, but no one would have the desire, nor patience to read the long version.)

Q. What advice, then, do you have for young writers? for older writers?

I could speak on this question for one week straight and still have advice to give. But I will say this: No matter if you are old or young, some across-the-board pieces of advice for writers include 1) keep moving forward and do not give up, 2) build your writer platform and make connections with other people, and 3) always write the best book possible, because the cream rises to the top.

Q. At the Midwest Writers Workshop, you’re teaching on several topics, including “Mastering the In-Person Pitch.” That’s probably one of the most frightening parts of being a writer–working on a computer composing pages is one thing, having to then do a “sales job” in order to get that book published is quite another. What do you say to allay those fears and help even the most introverted writer?

I will cover the nuts & bolts of all this in my speech at the event. But writers should know that agents understand how nervous writers get, so they’re pretty patient with everything. Also, pitching a book means following a step-by-step formula. Once you know what to address, then it’s all a matter of filling in the blanks.

Q. Another session topic is “Chapter 1 Do’s and Don’ts.” What’s the worst way to start a book? Do you have an example (beyond Snoopy’s “It was a dark and stormy night . . .”)?

Avoid descriptions of the weather. Don’t start with a dream. Try not to be inside of a character’s head for very long or at all.

Q. Your third topic is “The Business of Scriptwriting.” Did you find it to be an easy or natural transition to scriptwriting from all of the other types of writing you do? What is most rewarding and/or most challenging about scriptwriting?

“Scriptwriting” means writing plays and/or screenplays. I wrote plays before I did anything else. Now I’m trying screenplays. It’s an unusual transition, but there are upsides. When your work becomes a play, then the written dialogue is king, and it’s very rewarding to hear an audience erupt in laughter or be as quiet as can be when listening to your words. The reward with screenwriting is writing in a visual medium, and that the pay is much better than most writing assignments.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add, which might include hints on your philosophy/approach to writing and/or your teaching style?

Not really. I teach at a lot of writers conferences. I love meeting writers. I am happy to talk with anyone at the event who has a question or five about their journey. I will see you all soon!

Note: Chuck’s Part II Sessions:

  • Chapter 1 Dos and Don’ts – This workshop examines that all-important Chapter 1.  It spends a lot of time going over what not to do-listing clichés and overused techniques that repeatedly pop up in chapter 1 manuscripts, with comments from agents and editors alike. Following a discussion of agent pet peeves, the workshop addresses what writers should be doing to draw readers in.
  • Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published Panel [Cathy Day, moderator]; with Jane Friedman, Kathleen Rooney, JL Stermer
  • The Business of Scriptwriting: You’ve Written a Play or Screenplay-Now What? – This workshop examines what writers need to do if they’ve finished that play or screenplay and don’t know what to do now.  We’ll address targeting markets, getting plays read/workshopped, writing script queries, the difference between agents and managers, and more.  Everything is discussed, from writing and rewriting to contests and dealing with directors. Handouts provided.  It’s not a session about craft; it’s a session about business-for writers who have a script and no idea what to do with it.

News from agent Kathleen Ortiz

New Leaf Literary & Media

Great news: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (MWW faculty in 2009) has opened up her own agency, and Kathleen Ortiz has joined her.

Formation of new agency

Kathleen Ortiz is the Subsidiary Rights Director and Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. On the children’s side, she is interested in acquiring all genres of YA (she especially gravitates to darker YA), but would specifically love a beautifully told story set within another culture (historical or modern, in the vein of Blood Diamond or Memoirs of a Geisha). She’s also looking for darker middle grade for older kids (especially in the vein of Labyrinth). On the adult side, she’s looking for lifestyle or technology non-fiction, as well as urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Please, no picture books, chapter books or adult books outside of romance.

She represents Jaime Reed’s Cambion Chronicles (Kensington), Dawn Rae Miller’s Larkstorm, Sarah Fine’s Sanctum (Marshall Cavendish / Oct ’12), who also writes as S.E. Fine for Scan (Putnam for Young Readers, coauthored with Walter Jury / Fall ’13), as well as Disney and Sony animator Dan Haring and Betty Crocker recipe writer Bree from BakedBree.com.

Find Kathleen on Twitter or visit her blog for more information or updates on the publishing industry.