Blog

Happy solstice

The sun at sunset

It’s Decem­ber 21st, so that means that, here in the north­ern hemi­sphere, every day from here on out will be a lit­tle longer than the one before. I for one am hap­py to get more and more day­light.

Subvert all the expectations

Maman, the spider, with Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica behind

I came across this well-worn but still valid piece of writ­ing advice on Twit­ter yes­ter­day:

If you plan on sub­vert­ing [expec­ta­tions], you need to sub­vert with the goal of some­thing BETTER.

And now today, on CBC’s Sun­day Edi­tion, they’re talk­ing about Robert Mun­sch’s game-chang­ing book The Paper Bag Princess, which came out in that long-ago era of 1980 and sub­vert­ed all the expec­ta­tions about what a fairy tale should be.

I remem­ber dis­cov­er­ing (or per­haps re-dis­cov­er­ing) The Paper Bag Princess in my twen­ties. As a young man who had heard a mil­lion fairy tales with the “and then they got mar­ried” hap­pi­ly-ever-after end­ing, it was a very dif­fer­ent end­ing than I was expect­ing: the princess does­n’t mar­ry the prince, not even after res­cu­ing him from the drag­on.

It was a dif­fer­ent kind of end­ing, but still a hap­py end­ing. Maybe not so hap­py for the prince, but then he did noth­ing to earn a hap­py end­ing. It sub­vert­ed the trope and made a new, bet­ter thing from it.

So go: sub­vert the expec­ta­tions. Sub­vert all the expec­ta­tions. Make it bet­ter.

Head­er image: Maman, across the street from Notre-Dame Cathe­dral Basil­i­ca, in Ottawa.

Books I enjoyed in 2019

A bookmark painted by Hallie Bateman

Over on Twit­ter, Rose­mary Mosco asked about books read and loved in the past year. I took a look at my list, and here are some of the high­lights of the year so far, in no dis­cernible order:

  • This is How You Lose the Time War by Amar el-Mohtar and Max Glad­stone (reviewed here)
  • Peace by Gene Wolfe (Quite a nov­el, and slat­ed for a re-read some­time in the next few years)
  • The City in the Mid­dle of the Night by Char­lie Jane Anders (a first-con­tact nov­el unlike any­thing I’ve read before)
  • The Iron Drag­on’s Moth­er by Michael Swan­wick (a fit­ting cap­stone to a fre­quent­ly aston­ish­ing fan­ta­sy tril­o­gy)
  • Son of a Trick­ster and Trick­ster Drift by Eden Robin­son (reviewed here; I can­not wait for vol­ume 3 or the CBC series)
  • The Infi­nite Black­top by Sara Gran (the 3rd book in the Claire Dewitt series; absolute­ly worth it)
  • Get in Trou­ble, by Kel­ly Link (re-read; reviewed here)

How was your year in read­ing?

Pylons down

Hydro pylons lie on the ground near Winnipeg

I took this pho­to just out­side Head­in­g­ley on my way home from Win­nipeg. I’m not sure if the ones lying down were felled in the Thanks­giv­ing storm, or if they’re meant to replace weak­ened pylons (though I lean toward the for­mer).

[Update, 8 Jan. 2020] They’re replac­ing the pylons, or sup­ple­ment­ing them. The last time we went into Win­nipeg, on Box­ing Day, the pylons were now stand­ing, though not yet strung with wires.

Pitching Agents & Publishers

fountain pen on notepad

Yes­ter­day I went to a ses­sion put on by Dias­po­ra Dia­logue on the top­ic of pitch­ing your work to agents and pub­lish­ers.

I had assumed that the for­mat would be a pre­sen­ta­tion style, but when I arrived I dis­cov­ered it was more a round table for­mat, with the four agents and pub­lish­ers answer­ing ques­tions from the room.

I did­n’t have any spe­cif­ic ques­tions ready, but that was okay, because the oth­ers in the room asked about sev­er­al top­ics of inter­est to me.

Tran­scribed below are my notes from the event.

General notes on pitching

  • Your man­u­script (MS) should be as pol­ished as pos­si­ble
  • It’s okay to change from your 1st draft [note: I assume it’s gen­er­al­ly nec­es­sary to change from your 1st draft]
  • It’s bet­ter to have an agent when try­ing to sell a book-length piece

Benefits of having an agent

  • First and fore­most: their con­tact lists
  • Agents will work close­ly with the author, pro­vid­ing anoth­er set of (expert) eyes on a MS
  • the Big 5 pub­lish­ers (Hachette, Harper­Collins, Macmil­lan, Pen­guin Ran­dom House, and Simon and Schus­ter) gen­er­al­ly require agent­ed sub­mis­sions
  • Agents will know what the edi­tors at the var­i­ous pub­lish­ers are look­ing for; those edi­tors trust the agents
  • Some pub­lish­ers (usu­al­ly small press­es) will accept una­gent­ed sub­mis­sions
  • Agents are also good at read­ing con­tracts for the author [the cur­rent brouha­ha sur­round­ing ChiZine Press was men­tioned]
  • Agents can be “author’s ther­a­pists” and will go to bat for their authors
  • Agents are also able to bro­ker inter­na­tion­al sales

What will help with pitching & proposals?

  • Most impor­tant: the con­tents of the MS
  • Also impor­tant: MS comps (ie, com­par­a­tive titles; titles you hope to be com­pared to)
  • Pub­li­ca­tions in the short sto­ry mar­kets can help, because they offer a track record
  • Know your book
  • Know the pub­lish­ers or agents you’re pitch­ing to (do your research; have names; or at the very least don’t use “Dear Sirs” in your cor­re­spon­dence)
  • Bio: the more your work has been pub­lished, the bet­ter
  • Book descrip­tion: think in terms of jack­et copy (ie, one page at most)
  • Don’t be afraid to name-drop your friends in the indus­try, espe­cial­ly if they’re will­ing to blurb for you
  • Don’t over­sell your book (it’s not, eg, “more con­tro­ver­sial than the Bible”)
  • Ensure that you address the cor­rect per­son in your pitch
  • Aim for 85,00090,000 words for a 1st MS [note: it was­n’t clear if this was a gen­er­al rule or a lit-fic guide­line; I’ve heard 90,000120,000 for spec fic]

How important is an author’s “platform”?

  • By “plat­form” we mean social media pres­ence and web­site
  • Con­sen­sus: if it’s not some­thing you’re good at, or not some­thing you’re inter­est­ed in, then don’t do it
  • Goodreads: meh (no agent or pub­lish­er present felt that an author’s Goodreads pres­ence would sway them one way or the oth­er)

What are agents looking for?

  • You don’t need to be pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished to get an agent
  • Agents look for unique voice: ener­getic and entic­ing

How long does the process take?

  • Gen­er­al­ly it’s at least 1½ years from pitch to books on shelves, but can be longer