Posts

Literary agent Regina Ryan: eager to find new nonfiction talent

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

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

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

Check out the full faculty here!

Check out the full schedule here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow her on Twitter — @ReginaRyanBooks

Agent Jeff Ourvan seeks page-turning narratives

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

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

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

Wish list:

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

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

Check out the full faculty here!

Check out the full schedule here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow him on Twitter — @WriteWorkshopNY

Agent Amanda Orozco represents both fiction and nonfiction

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

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

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

Wish List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Follow her on Twitter — @oczoroadnama

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

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

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

Wish List:

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

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

Check out the full faculty!

Check out the full schedule!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitch your nonfiction to agent Rita Rosenkranz

Meet literary agent Rita Rosenkranz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Writing essays is all about the process of discovery

Silas Hansen’s essays have appeared in Colorado Review, Slate, Catapult, The Normal School, Hobart, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere. He is the nonfiction editor of Waxwing and directs the creative writing program at Ball State University.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet essayist Silas Hansen who discusses his writing and what he will present at our virtual summer conference.

Silas’s MWW21 sessions:

  • “Embracing the Tangent: the Art of Meandering in Personal Essays”
  • Panel: “Pathway to Publication” Jessica Strawser, Chadwick Gillenwater, Pam Mandel, Silas Hansen Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown

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

SH: I’ve described writing nonfiction before as putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box as a guide: I have all of the pieces, but I’m not sure how they fit together until I sit down and actually try placing each of the pieces side by side. I find this both immensely satisfying and incredibly frustrating—I love figuring out how two things work in juxtaposition (e.g., a scene from my childhood blended with research about something that was happening in the news at the time), but it can also be a long process of trial-and-error to get to that moment of realization.

It has helped me to remember that the process of getting there is the whole point of the essay. I also save the “errors” (the pieces that don’t fit) for future essays, which takes some of the pressure off: it never feels like wasted time, even if it ultimately doesn’t fit into the essay I’m working on at the moment.

MWW: What kind of research do you do for your writing, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book or an essay? 

SH: I can easily become obsessed with new ideas and concepts, so I have to be careful with my research: I can get so caught up in researching that I never actually put my own words on the page. Instead, I need specific questions to keep me focused. I often write first (often several thousand words, even for a single essay), then do the research once I know more about what I’m trying to say.

What kind of research I do depends on the essay. I often write essays about my own life and experiences, so my research tends to be more informal and personal. Recently, for example, I sorted through several boxes of family photos/scrapbooks from as far back as the 1890s and asked my 96-year-old grandmother about what I’d found. Sometimes research means asking friends and family about an experience that we had together so that I can compare our memories, or looking through my own yearbooks, photos, scrapbooks, etc.

MWW: What have you learned about revising over the course of your career as an author? 

SH: The most important thing I’ve learned about revision is to always save each version of the essay separately—clearly labeled—so I can go back to it. This gives me the freedom to take bigger risks. I know I can always go back to a previous version if my new weird idea doesn’t work. I’m a big fan of drastic revision: What would happen if I took this very straightforward essay and tried re-writing it as if it were a final exam? What if it was a letter? What would happen if I re-wrote the entire thing in second person?—so I’ll often have six or eight different versions of the same essay saved. Similarly, I never fully delete anything from an essay—if I’m cutting more than a few sentences, I save it into a separate Word document, as it might be the start of something else.

My advice is to give yourself permission to take big risks in revision and to figure out what you need to do to make taking those risks feel “safe.”

MWW: In To Show and To Tell, Phillip Lopate wrote “Good writers are always trying to write above their heads, to hit on understandings beyond their conscious knowledge, through fortuitous word choice.” Can you think of a time when your writing revealed something to you that you hadn’t clearly understood until you’d come to write about it? 

SH: This happens all of the time in my essays—it’s hard to think of a specific example! For me, writing essays is all about the process of discovery. I’m always starting with something that I’m uncertain about: maybe a question, maybe a memory that’s stuck in my head and I’m trying to figure out why, or maybe it’s an idea or a concept that I feel ambivalent toward. My essays are basically the travel log of where my mind went to figure it out. I’m often discovering something else—what the question means, why I’m asking it in the first place, what the answer might mean for me—along the way, even if I don’t ultimately find an answer.

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

SH: Probably my cat: I do my best writing at night, am very productive in short bursts, and enjoy a nice afternoon nap.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Silas!

“Creative Research” and how to decide what works with your story

Meet MWW20 faculty member Kelcey Parker Ervick

Kelcey Parker Ervick is the author of three award-winning books: The Bitter Life of Bozena Němcová, a hybrid work of biography, memoir, and art about a Czech fairy tale writer; Liliane’s Balcony (Rose Metal Press), a novella set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater; and the story collection For Sale By Owner (Kore Press).

She is co-editor, with Tom Hart, of the forthcoming Field Guide to Graphic Literature: Artists and Writers on Creating Graphic Narratives, Poetry Comics, and Literary Collage, which Rose Metal Press will publish in 2021.

She has received grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Her stories, essays, and comics have appeared in The Believer, The Rumpus, Colorado Review, Passages North, Quarterly West, Booth, Notre Dame Review, The Common, and elsewhere. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati and teaches creative writing at Indiana University South Bend.

Kelcey Parker Ervick MWW20
Kelcey Parker Ervick – MWW20

Kelcey’s MWW20 sessions include:

  • The “I” And The “Eye” In Nonfiction – How to strengthen your memoir by developing a persona and writing from a clear and consistent narrative perspective.
  • Searching and Researching: How To Write What You Don’t Know – How to take your memoir to the next level by making connections to history, politics, science, and culture.
  • Scene Magic – Kelcey will take you step by step through the writing of a compelling scene, then we will break those scenes down to identify the key parts so you can do it again (and again) on your own.

Lylanne Musselman, Midwest Writers Workshop board member, interviewed Kelcey for this week’s faculty Q&A.

MWW: Your award-winning book, The Bitter Life of Bozena Němcová, is billed as a biographical collage. How did that come about? Did you start writing with that idea in mind?

KPE: Bozena Němcová is a fairy tale writer whom I first encountered when I bought a book of her fairy tales for my daughter in the Prague Castle gift shop. I then learned that she is everywhere in Prague: there are statues and plaques and books and theater productions inspired by her. She is even on the Czech equivalent of the $20. (Imagine: a woman! on paper money!)

Long before it was a book idea, it was just me wondering: Who is this person? Why is she so important here? And why have I never heard of her before?

In my quest to find answers, I was so dazzled by everything I came across, and all my notes and quotes seemed to be in conversation with one another. So, I decided to tell the story of her life through actual snippets of her fairy tales and (amazingly frank) letters, gossip and recollections by her friends, radio interviews, and even things Kafka wrote about her in his letters. So, it became a “biographical collage.”

MWW: One of your sessions for Virtual MWW20 is “Searching and Researching: How to Write What You Don’t Know.” Writers are often told to only “write what you know” so what teaser can you give us about this session without giving too much away?

KPE: “Research” sounds so dull, but it isn’t! And it can add so much to your writing.

For example, I learned that one of the (rather disturbing) Frida Kahlo paintings that was originally owned by the historical characters in my book Liliane’s Balcony is now owned by Madonna, who uses it as a test litmus of friendship: “If somebody doesn’t like this painting,” she said, “then I know they can’t be my friend.”

Actually, that’s a terrible example because although I REALLY wanted to include that research tidbit, I couldn’t make it work in the story, so it’s not in the book!

Anyway, in this session I’ll provide strategies and fun examples of what I call “creative research” and how to decide what works with your story. Then I’ll offer a list of specific ways you can apply and incorporate your discoveries into your writing to add depth, detail, and humor.

MWW: What is your writing process like? Do you have any set rituals? 

KPE: In 2018, I started making a drawing or painting each day, and I’m now in my third year of doing it, and it has transformed my writing life. I have a different, less precious, relationship to painting than writing, so it is a way for me to create more freely and have fun. I post most of my daily doodles on Instagram, where it’s fun to connect with other readers, writers, and artists. The whole experience helped me think differently about how I write and the stories I tell. Weirdly, making visual art has helped me find my “voice.” (The Rumpus published my visual reflections on daily art-making in 2018 and again in 2019.)

I also like having at least two different projects going at once. This way, if one project isn’t going well on a certain day, there’s always another to work on.

Another part of my process is stepping back from a piece and writing ABOUT it: Why am I writing it? What am I trying to say? How would I describe it to a stranger? Writing about and reflecting on these questions can help me move forward and provide focus when I go back to drafting.

MWW: Can you share any details on what you’re working on right now?

KPE: I’m working on a couple of different projects. Both are illustrated narratives. One is inspired by my great-grandmother’s life in Belfast, Ireland, working as a flax-spinner making tablecloths for the Titanic, which was being built in nearby shipyards, while dreaming of taking it to America.

The other is an illustrated memoir about being part of the first generation of Title IX, the law best known for creating equal opportunities for girls and women in sports. Like my literary idol, Vladimir Nabokov, I was a soccer goalie who wanted to be a writer. Unlike him, I was a girl. As I tell my story, I share stories of women athletes and writers who paved the way.

Join Kelcey 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!

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 Kerry D’Agostino at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Kerry D’Agostino

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

Kerry D’Agostino is a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Bowdoin College, her masters in Art in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her certificate in publishing from the Columbia Journalism School. She started at Curtis Brown in 2011 as assistant to Tim Knowlton and Holly Frederick in the Film and Television Department. After some time as a film and audio rights associate, she also began assisting Peter Ginsberg. In addition to her continued work with Peter, Kerry now represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic. Above all, she is drawn to work that either introduces her to someone, somewhere, or something new, or makes her see something old in a new way. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Kerry’s Wish List:

She is looking for literary and commercial fiction and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic.

MWW agent assistant Allison Akers interviewed Kerry about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What are some do’s and don’t’s for authors who may be attending an agent pitch fest for the first time?

KD: The Midwest Writers Workshop website has some great advice for attending agent pitch fests, and I second all of it; it’s important to know who you are meeting with, and it’s also crucial to practice your pitch, on your own and also with those you can trust to share honest feedback. Be prepared to have a conversation about your work outside of the pitch, too: what brought you to the idea? What did your writing process involve? What do you consider to be good comp titles for your work? What kind of work might you want to pursue next? As far as “don’ts” go, it’s completely understandable that this can be a nerve-wracking experience, but don’t be too nervous. Agents work in publishing because they love books, and they attend these conferences because they’re excited to discover new talent. Both parties entering the conversation are hoping for a potential match! That said, another don’t is to not be too discouraged if your project is not a perfect match for the agent. Literature is so subjective, and just because the work is not right for one person does not mean it will not be a fit for the next. 

MWW: In your agent bio, you say you are interested in work that is “voice driven, accessible, and authentic,” as well as work that introduces you to new people, places, ideas, or gives a fresh take on an old concept. What work have you run across–either through your clients or leisure reading-that displays these qualifications?

KD: The best way to familiarize yourself with an agent’s taste is to study the books that they represent. My clients’ spring publications give a good sense of my interests: Leesa Cross-Smith’s  So We Can Glow is a gorgeous short story collection exploring the complicated hearts of girls and women; in Nancy Wayson Dinan’s  Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here, a young woman sets out in the aftermath of the 2015 Memorial Day floods to find her missing friend; and with  Before She Was Helen, Caroline B. Cooney takes us to the heart of a retirement community to discover long-buried secrets in her first mystery for adults. Each of the protagonists across these books is deeply relatable in some way, but each also simultaneously brings me into a new landscape of some kind, whether physical or emotional.

MWW: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre or story/memoir structure within the categories of commercial fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction?

KD: I would not say that I’m drawn to a particular structure, but across each of these categories I’m consistently looking for work that blends a deep examination of character with narrative momentum. I’m always intrigued when I see a writer playing with structure–Leslie Pietrzyk’s  Silver Girl is a great example of this, where we start with The Middle, move to The Beginning, then to the End, and then finally to Where Every Story Truly Begins–but the structure has to be purposeful, in service of the story rather than vice versa. In terms of genre, while much of my list does focus on upmarket/literary fiction for adult readers, I am also excited to be working with both authors of young adult literature and also authors of mystery/suspense.

MWW: What are some reasons that you reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript?

KD: The most common reason that I reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript is that I simply do not feel enough of a connection with it to feel confident that I would be that work’s most passionate advocate. There can always be unforeseen challenges in publishing, and when faced with those challenges an author deserves both an agent and an editor who shares their complete enthusiasm and their complete vision for their work. If I don’t have that vision, then I am not the right match for that work.

MWW: What are you most excited about for the Midwest Writers Workshop?

KD: I am looking forward to meeting with writers and learning about their projects! It would of course be particularly exciting to connect with a potential match, but either way I always enjoy feeling immersed in a creative community and the conversations such a community fosters.

In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Kerry will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:

  • “Six Steps from Query to Publication” – This session provides a general overview of the publication process, with steps that are broken down into the following: The Query; Signing with an Agent; Submission to Editors; Negotiating the Contract; Preparing for Publication; and finally, Publication itself. Tips for understanding and navigating each stage are included
  • “Subsidiary Rights” – This session explores the range of rights that can be involved in any one publishing contract, including print rights, digital rights, foreign language rights, UK rights, audio rights, and dramatic rights. Learn what each of these rights represent, and learn about the advantages of granting them to a publisher versus the advantages of reserving them.

Come and meet Kerry!

Register soon for the Early Bird Registration Cost! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)