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How Writers in Residence can help your writing

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

What are the advantages of having a Writer in Residence look at your writing and give feedback and marketing advice?

I’ve had the good fortune to be involved  on both sides. For two sessions I was Writer in Residence for the Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch. In that position, I have helped writers with advice on marketing their manuscripts, writing a query letter, editing and evaluating their manuscript – up to a point.

One thing about a Writer in Residence is he or she only evaluates/edits up to 20 or 30 pages – either for free or at a lower rate than normal fees. But it is worth every dollar (we don’t have pennies anymore in Canada), Euro or whatever denomination your country has. It is also worth your time because of the vast experience of Writers In Residence. They are published authors in various genres and if you pick your Writer in Residence to match your area of writing it can benefit your writing.

The process varies, but generally it involves submitting a few pages double-spaced of your writing-in-the works and then meeting with the WiR to get his or her feedback, ask questions and get some advice on how to make your manuscript sparkle and perhaps some marketing tips.

Recently, I had the experience of being on the other side of the fence. I am a member of the Toronto Heliconian Club and one of the benefits is the Writer in Residence. Just before Christmas I met with her – Dawn Promislow –  not for critique of my new Beyond novel in the works, but for an assessment of a five-page personal essay. I didn’t have to pre-submit the manuscript, just brought a couple of hard copies – one for her to look at and one for me – while we chatted.

And it was more than just a superficial chat. First, Dawn read the manuscript, then did a general overall evaluation including summing it up as good and more professional than she expected. (Note: this essay had been rewritten more times than I have fingers.) Then we went through it all line-by-line and discussed what worked, what didn’t, what could be expressed better and in fewer words, and what could be deleted. One of my concerns was to make it shorter so I could submit it to markets that require a shorter than 1300 personal essay. Previous to meeting withe Dawn I had shortened it from 1500 words to 1300 words.

It was a two-way discussion, none of this just giving advice with me listening. That’s important because the bottom line is it is my story and if I don’t have some input in the critique, I won’t really understand what needs to be done. The whole meeting took about an hour and 20 minutes.

So, besides CAA and clubs like the Heloconian, where can you find a Writer in Residence?

Try your local libraries. The Toronto Public Library system has two Writers in Residence programs a year, alternating locations with the two largest library branches – Toronto Reference Library and North York Central branch. I have submitted manuscripts over the years to WiRs at both branches. You have to have a library card for this – but library cards are free and renewed annually.

And submit is a keyword here. You have to submit up to a certain number of pages double-spaced to the library by a certain date. Then the library gets the manuscripts to the WiR and you will hear back from the library with an appointment time and date to meet with the WiR. Currently the TPL WiR is poet, memoir author, former journalist, etc. Brian Brett at Toronto Reference Library. For this session, Brian Brett will be focusing on poetry.

That’s another key. Submit something you are writing in the area of the WiR’s experience. Unlike me, who once submitted a chapter of my memoir to a literary novelist and poet. My memoir was part literary in style, but this author just didn’t get it. Another time, much earlier, I submitted one of the original chapter versions of the memoir to a well-rounded in writing experience WiR – Austin Clarke and got some excellent and thorough feedback. It was also a two-way discussion and it was Mr. Clarke’s feedback that helped me decide to actually write more chapters in a memoir.

So, a few tips for submitting your work to a Writer in Residence.

  1. Follow any submission guidelines.
  2. Make sure you match the WiR to what you are writing.
  3. Rewrite, rewrite your submission – a loose draft won’t do.
  4. Show up on time for your appointment with the WiR.
  5. Listen to what the WiR says but don’t be afraid to question and add details about what you are writing – it is not a one-way street.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask related questions that are pressing – such as markets, copyright issues, and in the case of memoir (one I always find comes up in my memoir writing workshops) –  naming names and the fear with writing your story.

Good luck. The WiR can be the experience that helps you get your manuscript focused and inspires you to keep at it.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

To find out more about Sharon A. Crawford and where her Beyond books are available click on the Beyond Blood book above.And visit her website

 

 

 

 

 

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Setting Writing Goals for 2013

amazon.com link to Sharon A. Crawford's book

amazon.com link to Sharon A. Crawford’s book

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

–          Agatha Christie

I’m not sure what the characters in my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point would plan to do in the new year. Some of the stories take place way before 2013 – for example 1965, 1997 and 1998. Be that as it may, that is no excuse why I and any other writer can’t set writing goals. It’s a new year and that brings new chances to write. If you’ve been procrastinating about finishing or even starting that novel or short story, here are a few outside the box (and a few inside the writing box) ideas how to get yourself from wishful thinking to actually writing.

1.    Do something else, like the late Agatha Christie’s suggestion above and I don’t think she meant using a dishwasher unless the dishwasher is you. Also try gardening (outdoors in season or indoor gardening in winter), walking, vacuuming and dusting, even sleeping. The idea is something mechanical and boring (washing dishes) and something that frees your mind to think creativity (walking, gardening) can kick-start an idea in your mind.
2.    Keep a notepad – electronic or hard copy – and write these ideas down as they hit your brain – you don’t want to operate like a gnat. That means keep something to do so near your bed at night.
3.    Take this latter a step further and start writing down your dreams no matter how silly they seem – analyze them or not, but the content alone may inspire a story.
4.    Learn from other writers – aspiring, established or in-between. Read blogs, attend writing workshops and courses (online or in person), join writing organizations and groups (preferably some that you have to go to in person as the personal connection with writers is good for your writing soul).
5.    Read novels and stories like you want to write – in print or e-book, whichever works for you. Reading others’ writing inspires you, not just with ideas, but with the writer’s style and grace.
6.    Blog excerpts of your writing – but make sure you state that it is copyrighted by you and don’t post the whole story because it could be considered a first publication and may interfere with other publication (unless you self-publish; then you can do what you want). On the other hand blog posts can often turn into seeds for books – trade or self-published. For an example, see posts by Alex Leybourne at http://alexlaybourne.com/
7.    Blog about your writing journey. We can learn from each other. For an example, see blog posts at http://bottledworder.wordpress.com/
8.    Try to write every day, even if just for an hour. For inspiration on this check out Julia Cameron’s The Writer’s Way at http://juliacameronlive.com/
9.    And perhaps most important – set writing goals for the year. Check http://bottledworder.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/new-years-resolutions-2013-guide-for-writers/ and Alex Laybourne’s blog post for Jan. 2 at http://alexlaybourne.com/2013/01/01/new-beginnings-a-guide-to-2013/

Happy and prolific writing for 2013.

If you read my book (see book cover at the top), please review it. Thanks.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Connecting with publishers and agents

Cover of Sharon’s short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point

To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it are the three great difficulties in being an author.”

~ Charles Caleb Colton

Last week I blogged about the traditional way to pitch your book manuscript to publishers and agents. Other ways exist and for some you have to have imagination and nerve. Then there is what Brian Henry said in his workshop last Saturday “Luck” or as I see it – “right place, right time.”

How I got my publisher for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point comes under the latter. The Editor at Blue Denim Press used to come regularly to my East End Writers’ (critique) Group when he still lived in Toronto. He is also a writer. Once we traded manuscripts for evaluation (although mine was a memoir, not the short story collection). When he and the other half of Blue Denim Press, his wife, the Publisher, did a presentation about Blue Denim Press and marketing books at a Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch meeting last fall, I approached them and mentioned a collection of short stories. They said send it in during January and February when they look at manuscripts. So I did – but only seven of my stories.

They were interested but needed more stories. So I was writing and rewriting stories right up to and beyond signing my contract with them (but that’s another story).  Something else I found out – the Publisher’s taste in fiction – she reads half a dozen mystery books a week – and my short stories are in that genre. Of course, it helps to write well and have something different about your manuscript. Mine isn’t called Beyond the Tripping Point for nothing. All 13 stories feature quirky characters and as I state in the PR to promote the book:

Murder, attempted murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, missing persons, vengeance, revenge, suicide, gambling, explosions, vehicular mishaps, indignity to a dead body, even love occur. Like all life’s happenings, they affect the characters–women, men and children–in their journey through life–emotionally, sometimes damaging them, sometimes stalling them in limbo, but often forcing them to reach beyond the tripping point. And to get there, these quirky characters frequently do the absurd and the unthinkable, often with unexpected results. 

By the way, I thought of the title and the publisher loved it.

So, what can we learn from my experience besides the obvious that I did not follow convention?

  1. Network, network and network – a combination of social media and in-person works best.
  2. Network with specific targets and goals. I focused on the publishing industry – trade shows, conferences, writing organizations, and workshops. You will meet a variety of writers, publishers, agents, etc. You might just chat with them for a bit and exchange business cards. Follow up by email.You might also do more (see below).
  3. Join some of these writing organizations and attend their meetings and seminars.
  4. Talk to the people at the conferences, etc. (wallflower acting not allowed) – introduce yourself and what you write. Ask the publisher or literary agent who is the guest speaker/attending the conference, etc. if you could send a query letter/part of your manuscript. Most will say yes, but remember that doesn’t guarantee you they will publish you or represent you. It means they will read your submission (and often they will skip their guidelines and say “just email the manuscript”). Follow-up within a week or two and in your cover or query letter make sure you remind them where you met.
  5. Remember the above can be a two-way street when you network. Sometimes it includes what you can do for them. For example, with writing organizations they are always looking for volunteers. Volunteering with a writing organization can help you connect with more writers, publishers, etc. It is also a good way to learn the ins and outs of the writing business. And it looks good on your bio for future query letters, etc.
  6. Join a writing critique group – this will help you hone your writing.
  7. Social media includes: Facebook, a blog about your book, Twitter, Goodreads, Linked In.
  8. Don’t give up. My memoir is still trying to find a home. (Note: at this point Blue Denim Press publishes only fiction).

Good luck.

The book launch for Beyond the Tripping Point, presented by Blue Denim Press, will take place Sunday, November 4, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. eastern standard time at The Rivoli in Toronto. You are invited if you can make it (well, if you are in say, Australia, maybe not). Guests are coming from northern Ontario and possibly Michigan in the USA. I am honoured and grateful to those who do come to my book launch. More details at http://www.bluedenimpress.com and click on “Toronto.”

For those too far away to attend, Beyond the Tripping Point is available at http://www.amazon.com. Just click on the book cover at the top of this post.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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