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Agent Jeff Ourvan seeks page-turning narratives

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

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

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

Wish list:

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

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

Check out the full faculty here!

Check out the full schedule here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow him on Twitter — @WriteWorkshopNY

Agent Amanda Orozco represents both fiction and nonfiction

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

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

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

Wish List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Follow her on Twitter — @oczoroadnama

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

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

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

Wish List:

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

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

Check out the full faculty!

Check out the full schedule!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agent Dani Segelbaum seeking authors from diverse backgrounds

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

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

Wish List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accept the 90 Days to Your Novel challenge – with Sarah Domet

Meet fiction author Sarah Domet!

Sarah Domet is the author of The Guineveres, originally released from Flatiron Books/Macmillan in October 2016. It received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal along with praise from O Magazine, People, Elle, Real Simple, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times Book ReviewSouthern Living voted it one of the Best Books of 2016 by Southern Authors and Bustle included it on their list of 2016’s best debut novels. Sarah is also the author of 90 Days to Your Novel, and her short fiction and nonfiction have been published and anthologized in numerous places. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from The University of Cincinnati, and she currently teaches in the creative writing program at Ball State University.

Sarah’s MWW20 sessions include:

  • 90 Days to Your Novel Challenge – A line has been drawn in the sand. Come prepared to cross it and to accept the 90 Days to Your Novel challenge. This session will help you arm yourself with a deadline, some good writing habits, and an outline in order to imagine, structure, and complete a draft of a novel in 90 days.
  • You Finished Your Manuscript, Now What? – Completing your manuscript is only half of your job as a novelist. This session will address the necessary next steps toward publishing and promoting your work.
  • Character + Yearning = Plot – This session will explore how understanding your character–and your character’s yearning–serves as the crucial foundation for the plot of your novel.
  • Panel: Outliner or Pantser? [Tracy Clark, Sarah Domet, Sarah Aronson, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown]

 

Sarah Domet - MWW20
Sarah Domet – MWW20

Angela Jackson-Brown, Midwest Writers Workshop board member, interviewed Sarah for this faculty Q&A.

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

SD: I always tell students to let go of perfectionism in the first draft of anything–just write and have fun with it. Enjoy the process. Revel in the pure joy of language. Follow the energy of the story to unexpected places. Whatever you do: keep writing. The sentences and pages will add up. I do feel I could follow this advice a bit more. On occasion, I find myself reworking the same paragraph/page/scene over and over again, and usually this is a sign that I’m stuck. I’m a big believer in the idea that the first draft of anything is simply a process of trying to figure out how to tell a story.

MWW: In your novel The Guineveres, you have four characters who share the same name. How easy or difficult was it developing their individual voices? What are the techniques/strategies you used to make sure each character resonated off the page?

SD: Voice is everything in fiction. I always tell my students that once you find your voice, you find your story. Part of narrative voice is discovering who is telling the story, of course. But perhaps equally important is figuring out who the imagined listener of your story might be. In The Guineveres, the turning point for me was figuring out just who was listening. Why were these girls telling this story in the first place? In the end, the answer surprised me!

In general, I find it useful for writers to think about this question: Why do I want to tell this story? If you can answer this question clearly, then you can often tap into your characters–and their motives–in more authentic ways.

MWW:  What are the main takeaways you want conference attendees to walk away with after taking your workshop?

SD: I hope attendees walk away with confidence in their voices and with concrete plans for finishing, revising, or submitting their work.

[Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing MWW20 authors’ books with Amazon Smile! Click here.]
Join Sarah and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Lori Rader-Day presents An Autopsy of a Novel – MWW20

Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar Award-nominated and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of The Lucky One (February 2020), Under a Dark Sky, The Day I Died, Little Pretty Things, and The Black Hour. She lives in Chicago, where she is co-chair of the mystery readers’ conference Murder and Mayhem in Chicago and the national president of Sisters in Crime. [Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing The Lucky One with Amazon Smile! Click here.]

Her short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, TimeOut Chicago, Crab Orchard Review, Freight Stories, and in the anthologies Dia de los Muertos (Elektrik Milkbath Press), Unloaded 2 (Down and Out Books), and Murder-a-Go-Go’s (Down and Out Books). Bestselling author Jodi Picoult chose Lori’s story as the grand prize winner of Good Housekeepings first fiction contest in 2010.

She studied journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, twice–but eventually gave in to her dream and studied creative writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Now a resident of Chicago for almost twenty years, she has a favorite deep dish pizza (Lou Malnati’s) and is active in the area’s crime writing community.

Join “Happy Hour with Lori” – Monday (July 20), Wednesday (July 22), Friday (July 24) from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm. as she discusses An Autopsy of a Novel.

Lori will walk you through her entire process for writing her novels. MWW20 session participants are encouraged–not required–to read The Lucky One prior the conference. Lori may need to talk about some spoilers to tell this story. Reading the book prior to the sessions will help a great deal not to have the twists ruined and to see how she worked them through.

Moderator Jama Kehoe Bigger will ask Lori – DAY ONE:

  • Where did the idea come from?
  • How did she create the plot?
  • At what point did she determine her characters?
  • Can we see her synopsis?

Since we hope most of the audience will have read the book, Lori will stop and ask for your feedback on decisions she made when writing the book. She can describe a problem that came up and ask you what you would have done to solve the problem. This will lead to lively dialogue! The purpose of this Happy Hour with Lori is to encourage writers to read books critically; to help workshop participants understand the steps involved in creating a publishable novel; to build community among MWW patrons; and promote literary citizenship by supporting an author and his/her work.

Moderator Jama will ask Lori – DAY TWO:

  • What did her outline look like?
  • How rough was her rough draft?
  • Talk about the editing process. How much input did her editor give her?
  • Who chose the title?

Moderator Jama will ask Lori – DAY THREE:

  • Did she have any control over the cover design?
  • What kinds of obstacles did she encounter along the way?
  • Did she have beta readers?
  • How many drafts did she do?

COUNTDOWN: ONE WEEK!

Join Lori and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Q&A with Lori Rader-Day

MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger caught up with Lori about her writing and her friendship with Midwest Writers Workshop.

Lori Rader Day - MWW20
Lori Rader Day – MWW20

MWW: Introduce yourself and tell us about your latest novel/creative project.

LRD: Hi, everyone! I’m Lori Rader-Day, a Midwest Writers Workshop alumna and award-winning crime fiction writer. I’m also the national president of Sisters in Crime, and you can consider that a commercial. My latest published book is The Lucky One, which is a psychological thriller about a woman who was kidnapped as a child (and returned safely) and is paying back her good fortune by helping find cold case missing persons–when she sees a face she recognizes on the site and it’s her kidnapper, never brought to justice. My latest project, not yet published, is a historical crime story set during World War II at Agatha Christie’s summer house, Greenway, in Devon, England.

MWW: We’re all creating new routines for ourselves in the midst of COVID. What does dedicating time to your craft right now look like for you?

LRD: To finish my recent revisions for that last project, I had to dedicate so much what we call “butt in chair” time that I might have injured myself. Who says this job isn’t a physical one? This was hours a day every day for most of the quarantine, which gave me something to focus on. Now that I’m done… well, let’s just say I might start writing my next book sooner than planned.

MWW: What role has Midwest Writers Workshop played in your personal path to publication?

LRD: Midwest Writers Workshop was the first writing conference I ever went to. I had no idea who I was, what kind of writer I wanted to be, but I had so much fun. When I went back the next time, I had a clearer idea–but I was wrong, because when I went to MWW’s fellow retreat (RIP) one year, I found out I was a crime fiction writer. I didn’t know, but the wise people at MWW made sure I left with a better idea of the story I was writing and what I would need to do to get it written. That book was published as my third novel in 2017, but the scene I wrote at the retreat is still in the book.

MWW: Why would you encourage writers–of any age or any experience level–to participate in Midwest Writers Workshop?

LRD: I send a lot of people to MWW because I think it’s a welcoming space with great teachers. I think any age of writer could find some fellow writers to hang out with, and any experience level will find some classes to fit their needs.

Lori’s waiting to meet you for Happy Hour!

What?!! ALL 23 sessions!

What? You’ll have access to ALL 23 sessions …

Yes. We have a need for community and now there’s the technology to create new community spaces for writers. No more choosing among breakout sessions online. Attend ALL 23 sessions live or watch recorded sessions for up to one month later. You can even rewatch sessions you find particularly helpful. [Check out the sessions here.]

 

What? You’ll save $150 because the cost has been reduced to $249 …

Yes. Do the math. That’s quite a bargain per session!

 

What? You’ll meet a community of writers through the private Facebook Group …

Yes. Join this all-star faculty line up and the expert workshops we have planned and move forward with your writing. MWW offers a way to build community among writers during this odd time in which we find ourselves. Let’s live Zoom the sessions together; let’s share on the private FB group with an amazing community of writers. [Check out the faculty here.]

With the COVID-19 pandemic, not only are many people’s work lives being disrupted, but their very capacity to focus, prioritize, and stay creative and buoyant also are challenged. But times of surprising challenge also give us the opportunity to center our attention and create in new ways.

Mary Oliver asks us, with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

Something, I hope, more than worry.

Something, I hope, more than hoard or blame.

Something more than hole yourself up in a cabin and wait for this thing to blow over.This crisis is an opportunity to create something new. To step out into a “virtual” conference.

Because the world has changed and keeps changing, and it will need your contribution, your words, your stories. In a week or a month or a year from now, how will you look back on this time? Will you have used your opportunity to contribute something to this new world? Or will you have only enjoyed an abundance of hand sanitizer? We’ve all probably watched too much Netflix, called too many friends to validate us, refreshed our social media feed too many times. Now it’s time to get to work. To do something. To pursue your dream.

And I invite you to join us for Virtual MWW20.

And now that it’s all coming together…I can’t believe how freaking fun, valuable, and powerful this virtual event is going to be!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Yep. We’re going virtual, too

Registration Re-Open NOW! MWW20 Moves To Online Format!

MWW20 Virtual Conference

Monday – Saturday

July 20-25, 2020

We’ve been working on this since the day we found out we’d have to cancel our planned in-person Midwest Writers Workshop at the Ball State Alumni Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We went from being so disappointed and sad about having to cancel MWW20 in Muncie, to seeing this as incredible potential for us to help lots and lots of both aspiring and advanced writers like you through a virtual conference!
And now that it’s all coming together… we can’t believe how freaking fun, valuable, and powerful this MWW20 virtual event is going to be!
We have an all-star line up of authors and valuable sessions!
“Virtual MWW20” is now SIX days … so get ready! 

We have designed an online version of MWW that offers plenty of instruction, networking, and the sense of community that makes MWW so special.

Our online conference features:

From July 20-25, a total of 23 sessions, via Zoom video conferencing. The sessions will feature a variety of content that will be determined by the individual faculty member and may feature lecture, possibly prompt work, and vital, informative, enjoyable discussions that build your skills as a writer.

MWW20 features a remarkable faculty who know their stuff, providing information for both aspiring and practicing writers at all stages of their journey.

**Instruction led by renowned faculty for the genres of:

  • novel (Lori Rader-Day, Sarah Domet)
  • mystery (Tracy Clark)
  • middle grade/young adult (Sarah Aronson)
  • nonfiction/memoir (Kelcey Parker Ervick)
  • And special sessions with
    • Carol Saller – contributing editor to The Chicago Manual of Style
    • Jamie Thomas – director of operations at Women & Children First Bookstore in Chicago

 **“Happy Hour with Lori” (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) Lori Rader-Day: An Autopsy of a Novel — Lori will walk you through her entire process for writing her novels. Session participants are encouraged—not required—to read The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day prior to MWW20. Lori may need to talk about some spoilers to tell this story. Reading the book prior to the conference will help attendees understand Lori’s writing process without spoiling the plot twists. [Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing The Lucky One with Amazon Smile! Click here.]

**Private Facebook Group for camaraderie and to build connections with other participants and faculty.

**Can’t attend all the sessions live? No problem. MWW is offering archival video access to ALL attendees for ALL sessions and the content from other faculty members, allowing you to audit other sessions at your convenience during MWW20 and for the following four weeks.

It’s important to keep our MWW writing community as active as we can during this pandemic and that’s why this online version of MWW can be more important than ever to helping nurture aspiring and accomplished writers to improve their craft and achieve their publishing goals.

The cost for our Virtual MWW20 experience has been reduced to $249.

No more choosing among breakout sessions. Attend ALL 24 sessions live or watch recorded sessions for up to one month later. You can even rewatch sessions you find particularly helpful.  You’re getting more sessions for less money, and you can attend in your PJs!

At an on-site conference, your head can be spinning with all of the new information. Our online conference gives writers a place to go back and revisit and catch some of the content that they missed.

 

We’re still offering our **NEW Catapult Your Writing Workshop. This intensive will expose writers to the critique process in a positive environment and foster the idea of collaboration as an imperative skill. Learning the fine art of critiquing will prepare writers to work with editors, understanding that criticism is not personal, and looking at their own work in a clearer, more honest way. Topics addressed in the workshop include craft, style, plot, characterization, grammar, and more. This community experience will expose writers to each other at all stages of the development. Every work will be considered by its intention in a supportive and safe environment with the focus on making the manuscripts the best they can be in the time shared. Students must apply. Limit 12.

    • CATAPULT YOUR WRITING WORKSHOP: July 20-25, 2020 (9-11 am, 1:15-2:15 pm)
      • $299 [includes access to all Virtual MWW20 sessions]
      • Submissions must be emailed by June 1, 2020.

Do you dream of getting your story out of your heart and into a book? It’s time to turn that dream into reality. Let’s get those words onto paper and craft your story into a powerful offering.

That’s the vision behind our mission statement and our passion to help writers; MWW20 is designed to guide you to the next step in your writing journey.

Whether you’re a beginner with zero experience, or you’ve been writing for years, you’ll want the collective wisdom of our conference faculty. These authors will empower you to dream, write, and publish the story inside you.

Join us during the week to be inspired and equipped to take the next step in your writing journey.

Find the entire schedule: here.

Find the faculty bios: here.

Register HERE!

 

Pitch to Jennifer Grimaldi at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Jennifer Grimaldi

Jennifer is one of eight literary agents coming to the 2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

Raised on a steady diet of Holly Black & Philip Pullman, Jennifer Grimaldi has always gravitated toward otherworldly, fantastical novels that reflect our own world’s past and present. At St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne, she edited and acquired S. Jae-Jones’ New York Times bestseller Wintersong–a Labyrinth-inspired gothic YA–and worked with numerous bestselling and award-winning authors such as Kate Forsyth. Jennifer’s broad exposure to the domestic and foreign publishing markets as a scout with Barbara Tolley & Associates further shaped her taste for the eclectic. She is now an agent with Chalberg & Sussman, where she first started her publishing career in 2012.

Although the titles on her shelves have changed over the years, the content has not: they are still stuffed with magic and spaceships, fairytales and faraway lands. Across all genres, Jennifer loves strong, voice-driven novels, dark and romantic themes, and books that make her think–and learn. She is particularly excited by books that explore gender and sexuality, especially those with diverse, LGBTA+ leads, and own-voice writers.

Aspects sure to delight her include: cities and urban-planning, anecdotal histories, that trope where there were supposed to be two rooms at the hotel but they’re all booked up so the leads have to share, spies, thieves, mythological retellings, witches just trying to get by, weird obsessions, and puns.

Jennifer’s Wish List:

She is looking for historicals, romance, horror, and young adult and adult sci-fi and fantasy.

MWW agent assistant Gina Klaff, senior Creative Writing major at Ball State University and fiction editor for The Broken Plate, interviewed Jennifer about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: Let’s start with a question that might help some of the writers who may be attending the Fest. Are there any specific elements that you look for in a manuscript that help you determine whether or not you’d like to work with that story, or do you approach every manuscript differently?

Every manuscript is different, which is why most agents request a query letter along with pages to get a sense of the plot, themes, and writing style of the project. I don’t expect writers to be experts at query writing, so passes at that level for me are usually very basic: I’m not interested in representing that story, or I don’t like the hook, or it’s something I’ve seen done before. Once I move to the pages, I make faster and more cutthroat determinations. These can be based on character interactions, plot, genre tropes, writing, and so on, and are very specific to each type of project. I expect the first pages of a MS to be the most heavily edited, so if I sense problems, I’ll pass on a project very quickly.

MWW: Do you have any advice for new writers on how to query, or how to approach you or other agents?

The most important step is to do your research, both into your own project to correctly determine its genre and comparison titles, and then into agents who you feel will best be able to represent your project. The agents you are querying should be experts in your genre, and someone you would be excited to build a partnership with. The best advice I can offer is to be kind, professional, and respect boundaries. Remember that agents are people too, and they should be as excited to represent your work as you are to have them representing you!

MWW: Are there any specific tropes that make you happy whenever you see them? 

Absolutely! I have a few specific ones listed in my bio, but off the top of my head, I’m also a big fan of bodyguard romances, clever inversions of traditional narratives, villain-centric stories, and explorations of mythology and morality.

MWW: What kind of manuscript or story have you not seen for some time (or at all) and would like to work with in the upcoming year?

Oh, this is a tough one! I’d love to see more sci-fi dealing with robots/AI and the general question of what makes us human. On a completely different tack, I’d also love to see a fun murder-mystery romp as the backdrop to a rom-com or a YA narrative, in the vein of “Knives Out” or Clue.

MWW: And since we’re talking about stories, what’s a book you’ve recently read that you enjoyed?

I recently picked up A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, which is sort of a space opera-meets-political intrigue with a fascinating mystery and extremely compelling heroine. It’s a wonderful read.

****
In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Jennifer will present this session at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:
  • “360 View of the Path to Publication” –  A look at the full process of publishing a book from a current literary agent and former book scout and editor. This session will cover what you can expect from the submission process, the selling and retaining of rights and subrights, the marketing and publicity a traditional publisher can offer, and what comes next.
Come and meet Jennifer!

Register Today!

Pitch to Patricia Nelson at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Patricia Nelson

Patricia is one of eight literary agents coming to the  2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

MWW agent assistant Kate Champlin, Ph.D. in English from Ball State University, interviewed Patricia about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What should a new author remember to include in a pitch? Is there an element in the query or the description of the book that will especially catch your attention?
PN: I’m always looking for four things in a pitch: character, catalyst, conflict, stakes. In other words:
  • Who is your main character and what’s interesting about them?
  • What happens that changes everything for them?
  • Now what choices do that have to make, and what obstacles do they have to overcome?
  • And finally, what will happen if they fail or make the wrong choices?
In an in-person pitch, being concise and straightforward is key to making the best use of your time, so if you can sum up the answer to each question in a sentence or two, that will give us a great foundation to start our conversation.

 

MWW: What questions should new authors ask during the first meeting with the literary agent? (Some new authors might not know the right questions to ask.)
PN: Usually in a pitch we’ll just be talking about your book, so no need to worry too much about preparing questions in advance. I suppose you could ask “do you have any suggestions for how I might strengthen my pitch or the story?” or “does this strike you as a premise that would work in the current market?”… but honestly, I’ll probably volunteer that advice unprompted!

 

MWW: Are there any particular character tropes or plot points that might cause you to reject a pitch?
PN: I personally tend to shy away from stories with a great deal of violence, and from stories where the catalyst for the main character’s growth is a rape or assault. And of course, any pitches in a genre or category I don’t represent will be a no-go for me.

 

MWW: Are there any character types or plots that you feel are overrepresented in the market?
PN: The market is so tough right now that anything that doesn’t feel completely fresh is difficult to sell. So your best bet is to read widely, and then think about what you aren’t seeing and write the story only you could write. Because of the long lead time between when a book is acquired by a publisher and when it releases, if you’re trying to write to trends, you’re generally already too late.

 

MWW: How many new queries do you receive every year? How many of these projects do you choose to represent?
PN: I receive hundreds of queries each month, and generally sign no more than five new clients in any given year. It’s important to me to keep my client list relatively small so that I can give a lot of attention to every single person I represent, so when I’m deciding whether to take on someone new, the bar is very high. I’m only looking for authors who I feel like I would be heartbroken to NOT work with.

 

MWW: Our interview model also includes space for a brief biography and a wish list. What should the new authors at Agent Fest know about you? What types of manuscripts are you currently looking for?
PN: I’ve been a literary agent with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency since 2014, representing young adult, middle grade, and select adult fiction. My clients include bestselling and award-winning authors, and my recent sales include books placed with Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Candlewick and Simon & Schuster, among others. I received my bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and hold master’s degrees in English Literature from the University of Southern California and in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Although I’m currently based in San Diego, I’m actually a Midwesterner originally — I grew up in Michigan.
My wish list includes:
  • beautifully written, page-turning, unique young adult and middle grade fiction across genres, with particular interest in contemporary/realistic novels, contemporary fantasy, and magical realism
  • contemporary women’s fiction of both the upmarket (book club) and commercial (beach read) varieties
  • historical women’s fiction set in the 20th century, especially if it explores the untold story of a real historical figure
  • sexy, smart adult contemporary and historical romance with a big hook (but note that I do NOT represent category romance, paranormal romance, or romantic suspense)
  • novels by underrepresented authors across all categories/genres that I represent
In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Patricia will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:
  • “Rookie Submission Mistakes (and how to avoid them)” Learn about common pitfalls of queries and first chapters, along with a crash course in best practices for catching an agent’s eye. Whether you’re just starting to prepare to seek an agent or are looking to troubleshoot a query that’s not working, this session offers tips and tricks to help take your submission materials to the next level.
  • “Capturing the YA and MG Voice” – Agents and editors often say that they’re looking to “fall in love with the voice” when they’re considering a project. But what does that even mean? What is voice, and how can you make yours stronger? In this session, we will focus specifically on honing a voice that jumps off the page for the competitive young adult and middle grade markets.

Come and meet Patricia!

Register Today! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)