Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Interview with literary agent Alec Shane of Writers House

Note: Don't ever miss a post on Quick Brown Fox. Fill in your email in the box to the right under my bio, and get each post delivered to your Inbox. ~ Brian

Alec Shane is a literary agent with Writers House. One of the largest literary agencies in the world, Writers House prides itself on providing an extraordinary amount of individual client attention, combined with the full service benefits of foreign and sub rights departments, as well as a full accounting and royalty staff.
“I began my career at Writers House as an intern in September of 2008 and simply refused to leave,” says Alec. “So I was given the wonderful job of Assistant to Jodi Reamer {who represents Stephenie Meyer and John Green, among others}. I’m now also in the process of actively building my own list and currently represent a fairly eclectic mix of Children's and Adult fiction and nonfiction. I'm eagerly looking for both.
“Prior to working at Writers House, I held a number of different jobs, including a brief stint out in Los Angeles as a professional stuntman. And if you don't think knowing how to take a punch and getting thrown through a glass window are both essential tools in the book business, then you clearly don't know publishing.”

Genres and Specialties
Fiction: General fiction, Mystery, Suspense/thriller, Children's books, Juvenile fiction, Middle-Grade, Horror, Historical Fiction
Nonfiction: Biography, History, Sports, Humor, Military History
Best known projects: SHARK WARS, EJ Altbacker, THE LAST PUNISHER, Kevin Lacz, NIGHT ON FIRE, Ronald Kidd, THE BOOK OF BLOOD, HP Newquist, HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES, Mark Stein, YOU MIGHT REMEMBER ME: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PHIL HARTMAN, Mike Thomas

The interview…
Quick Brown Fox (QBF): Do you have suggestions about getting manuscripts in shape before writers start the submission process?
Alec: This is incredibly important, as once a manuscript is out, it’s out. One of my biggest pet peeves as an agent is when an author who queried me recently emails me to ask if I can swap out the original query with a new, revised one; definitely don’t that. Workshop it, edit it, edit it again, get second, third, and fourth reads, and when you think to yourself “if I have to look at this manuscript one more time I’m going to break something,” then it’s time to send out.

QBF: Should writers have their manuscripts reviewed by a professional editor before submitting?
Alec: It’s never a bad thing to have a professional editor take a look at a manuscript, as a lot of editors also offer advice on who to best submit to and will also work on getting your query letter into shape and all other aspects of the process. That said, by no means is it necessary; as long as you have a good critique partner or a strong editorial eye, you can save yourself the money. Professional editors can definitely help, but not using one isn’t going to doom your manuscript.

QBF: Are there any books about writing or editing that you especially recommend?
Alec: It kind of starts and stops with On Writing by Stephen King, in my opinion. It’s probably the best “how to” book on writing out there. Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Al Zuckerman is also a good resource.

QBF: What sort of books are you especially looking for?
Alec: I’d love to find the next Goosebumps or any kind of MG or YA horror. I’d also love to find a mystery or thriller with a female serial killer. The villain always seems to be a guy; women can be just as disturbed, twisted, and evil as men, so let’s get a female Hannibal Lecter out into the world.
On the nonfiction side, I’m looking for a book about the history of the American barbershop, as well as a book about the men who were commissioned as flamethrowers in WWII.

QBF: Is there anything you see too much of or that seems overdone these days?
Alec: I see a lot of submissions that mirror what’s currently on the shelves, as if authors see what’s trending and then try to write to that trend. The problem with this strategy is that by the time the book actually hits the shelves, the trend is already over; remember, the time that elapses between when a book sells to a publisher and when it’s released is at least a year, sometimes more.
That said, here are some opening scenes in novels that I see way too much. If your book opens with any of the following, know that there are a ton of other novels doing the exact same thing:
- Just waking up in the morning
- On a train/plane/automobile on the way to your new school/job/home/life
- At a funeral
- Out for a morning run
- Getting chased through the woods
- Getting yelled at by mom to come downstairs and eat breakfast/get to school

QBF: On the children’s fiction side, do you represent the whole range: Picture Books, Chapter Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult?
Alec: The bulk of my children’s list is Middle Grade; I have a few YA projects, but as my kids list is skewed primarily towards boys, there’s more demand for that kind of book in the MG sphere. Teenage boys tend to jump straight to adult books, so finding a strong boy-centric YA is difficult (not that I’m not looking!). I wish I understood picture books, but I just don’t have an eye for them.

QBF: Are you interested in adventure fantasy?
Alec: Absolutely! Although I will say that sword and sorcery fantasy isn’t really my thing. Not a big Lord of the Rings guy, so no elves and wizards and fairies and the like. But amazing new worlds and ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances is right up my alley.

QBF: On the adult side, are you interested in women’s fiction?
Alec: Not particularly.

QBF: The terminology in the publishing world doesn’t seem terribly consistent. How do you define upmarket or upscale fiction and are you looking for it?
Alec: Upmarket fiction is usually defined as fiction that straddles the line between commercial and literary. Literary fiction is very heavy on beautiful prose, whereas commercial fiction is primarily plot-driven and doesn’t rely as much on the writing.
There’s also “high concept” fiction, which is usually defined as a book in which the plot is easily accessible and you understand the concept right away. “Cloned dinosaurs run amok at a futuristic theme park” (Jurassic Park) or “sleazy lawyer finds himself incapable of lying for 24 straight hours” (Liar Liar) are good examples of high concept ideas.
I’m just looking for good books. I don’t care about upmarket or literary or speculative or whatever other term you want to throw in. Just write something awesome and send it my way.

QBF: Can you tell us about your process when you’re considering a project...
Alec: I usually read a manuscript several times before deciding to take it on. When you acquire a book, you’re working for free until it sells, so you have to really believe in it in order to pull the trigger. I’ve read manuscripts that I have absolutely loved, but decided not to take on because I knew I’d have a hard time selling it, so it also isn’t simply about books that I really enjoy. The project has to hit that sweet spot between “I want to work on this book for the next several years” and “there is room for this book on the shelf.” So I take a lot of things into account before signing a new client.

QBF: What grabs your attention when you’re reading a query letter?     
Alec: The thing I look for more than anything else when reading a query is whether or not the author did his/her homework and is querying me for a reason. Even something as simple as “I noticed on your Publisher Marketplace page that you’re looking for horror novels” or “I saw from a recent Twitter post that you’d like to see a book that features a big dog” will go an incredibly long way in making your query stand out. All too often, authors write one extremely generic, form query, and then just blast it out to every agent email address they can find. Doing your research and making sure you personalize your query is going to work wonders.

QBF: Besides a great book, what else you look for in a client? Do you require your clients to have a strong social media presence?
Alec: One element that often flies under the radar when this question gets asked is including whether or not we’re going to get along. I always speak with an author on the phone before officially offering representation, as I want to make sure we have a good dynamic and share the same vision for a book and a career. Signing with an agent is a lot like a marriage; you don’t marry someone who isn’t a good fit for you, and the same applies to the author/agent relationship.
In terms of social media presence, it’s never a bad thing to be active, but I have never read a book, loved it, and not taken it on because the author didn’t have enough Twitter followers. I worry that authors spend too much time getting Facebook likes and not enough time honing their craft.
Nonfiction is a different story, however. When it comes to nonfiction, platform is extremely important, so I’ll put much more weight into online presence when considering a nonfiction project.

QBF: In general, what is the outlook for new and aspiring writers?
Alec: What I think makes it most difficult for aspiring writers right now is the combination of how impatient we have become as a society and how many outlets for publishing your book currently exist. Publishing a book is a long and sometimes glacially slow process.
With very few exceptions, if I were to sell a book tomorrow, it wouldn’t be coming out until next year at the very earliest. And that doesn’t take into account how long it takes to write the book, revise it, revise it again, revise it a third, fourth, and fifth time, find an agent, revise with the agent, revise with the agent again, submit to editors, find the right buyer, negotiate the contract, sign the contract, revise with the editor, and revise with the editor again. That whole process can take years.
OR, you can write it, go to Amazon, click that little “Publish” button, and your book is up for the world to read – along with the 15,000 other books that came out that day. You have to be patient and willing to do the work if you want to make it as an author – and a lot of folks have a lot of trouble doing that these days.

QBF: Can you tell us something about how you work with authors....
Alec: I’m very hands-on as an agent, especially editorially. The market is extremely tight right now, so it’s important to have the strongest manuscript possible when sending out to editors, and I work with my authors to ensure that everything that can be done gets done. I also like to try and custom-tailor my agenting style to fit an author’s specific needs; some authors like to get more attention than others, and so it’s hard to describe my style in broad-strokes terms.

QBF: What writing advice do you give most to your clients?
Alec: Don’t worry about trends or what’s hot right now or anything like that. Just write what you want to write and what you’re excited about. I can list all the rules and dos and don’ts and clichés and everything else about publishing – but all of that just vanishes in the face of a great book.

Query Alec at: ashane@writershouse.com
The subject heading should read: "Query for Alec Shane: TITLE"
Include the first 10 pages of your manuscript. No attachments.


Brian Henry will lead Writing for Children & for Young Adult workshops on Saturday, May 27, in St. Catharines with Anne Shone, senior editor at Scholastic Books (see here), and on Saturday, Aug 12, in Collingwood with literary agent Monica Pacheco (see here). 
In the fall, Brian will lead a weekly Writing Kid Lit class, Thursday mornings, Oct 5 – Nov 30, in Oakville (see here).
Note: For updated listings of Writing for Children & for Young adult workshops and for weekly Kid lit classes, see here (and scroll down).

And don't miss joining us for a weekend writing retreat at Arowhon Pines Resort in Algonquin Park. There are two retreats scheduled for 2017: June in Algonquin Writing Retreat, Friday, June 2 – Sunday, June 4 – or extend your retreat to Monday, June 5 (see here) and the Fall Colours Writing Retreat, Friday, Sept 15 – Sunday, Sept 17 (see here).
To reserve a spot or for more information, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Other upcoming workshops include: “You can write great dialogue,” Saturday, June 10 in Guelph, with author Hannah McKinnon, (see here), Saturday, July 15, in Mississauga (see here), and Saturday, July 22, in London (see here), and “How to Write Great Characters,” Saturday, June 17 in Burlington (see here).

This summer Brian will be leading three creative writing courses, introductory to advanced:
Exploring Creative Writing, Tuesday afternoons, July 4 – August 22, in Burlington. See here.
Next Step in Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings, July 5 – August 23, in Burlington. See here.
Intensive Creative WritingWednesday afternoons, July 5 – August 23, in Burlington. See here.
      Details of all three courses  here.  

In the fall, for the first time, Brian will be leading a creative writing course in Toronto:
Intensive Creative Writing, Monday mornings, Sept 25 – Dec 4. See here.

For more information or to reserve a spot in any workshop, retreat, or weekly course, email brianhenry@sympatico.ca
Read reviews of Brian’s courses and workshops here.

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Navigation tips: Always check out the labels underneath a post; they’ll lead you to various distinct collections of postings. Also, if you're searching for a literary agent who represents a particular type of book, check out this post. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Intensive Creative Writing, Mondays, Sept 25 – Dec 4, in Toronto

Intensive Creative Writing
Ten special weeks with a group of special writers
Monday mornings, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
September 25 – December 4, 2017 (10 weeks. No class Oct 9)
Glenview Church, Bethelhem Room, 1 Glenview Ave, Toronto, Ontario. (Map here)
See details of creative writing courses offered this summer, introductory to advanced, here.

The Intensive course is for experienced writers; people who have been working on their craft for a while, who have some experience in the art of giving helpful critiques, and who are working on their own projects. 
During course, you’ll be asked to bring in five pieces of your writing for detailed feedback. All your pieces may be from the same work, such as a novel in progress, or they may be stand alone pieces. You bring whatever you want to work on.  
In addition to learning how to critique your own work and receiving constructive suggestions about your writing, you’ll discover that the greatest benefits come from seeing how your classmates approach and critique a piece of writing and how they write and re-write.

Fee: $167.26 plus 13% hst = 189
To reserve your spot now, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Instructor Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada's most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John.But his proudest boast is that he’s has helped many of his students get published. 
Read a review of the Intensive course here. Read more reviews of Brian’s courses and workshops here

See Brian’s complete current schedule hereincluding writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

“Trafficked” a personal essay by Monica Catto


I first met Katrina on one of our monthly outreaches. In a drunken stupor, she railed at me, “Why won’t God just let me die?” She’s tried to overdose, walked in front of cars; all to no avail. She’s still very much alive, although her real name is not Katrina.

With courage no doubt brought on by the alcohol, she recounted a story that shattered any naiveté I may have had about the human trafficking epidemic that plagues the GTA.

While driving with her boyfriend (I learned that part of the victim mind set is to refer to your pimp as your boyfriend) she dared to challenge him on the new girl he’d been seeing.  Angered by her audacity, he threw her out of the car in the middle of the city, leaving her with nothing. No money, no ID, and no water, on one of the hottest days of the summer. Afraid and tired, she stumbled wearily into a park rife with the city’s lost and broken.

“You know who actually helped me?” she asked. “A homeless crack head. He gave me water, food, and bus fare to go back to my boyfriend. Only someone who knows what it is to be looked down upon would help someone like me.” Bitterness etched on her face, she weaved side to side in her stilettos.

“You do know that I’m being trafficked?” she asked matter-of-factly.

This information is seldom if ever offered. It is an unspoken truth among many of these working girls.

Feeling inadequate at this point, I dared to ask, “Have you ever tried to get away from him?  Have you gone to the police?”

“I have a nine-year-old brother. He’s already told me that he’ll hurt him if I ever try to leave,” she said, trying to hold back her tears. “Besides, he has my passport, my driver’s licence, everything.”

And then the moment is over. The club’s manager barged into the change room and bellowed, “Katrina, you’re up,” signalling her turn on the dance floor.

So how do you tell someone whose experience seems hopeless, that there is hope?  That their life does, in fact, have purpose when their identity and every tangible piece of evidence that says that they even exist, has been stripped from them?

By showing up. Remembering her name – not her club name, but the one her parents gave her at birth. Being persistent in your pursuit of connection. Texting until one finally gets answered and leads to a dinner together at the Keg. A dinner that requires training on how to safely meet up with a trafficked woman in the sex trade.

This is eye-opening in and of itself. You’re given a cultural lesson on the difference between a common street pimp, and the more dangerous variety, one involved in organized crime. Should the pimp be present when Katrina arrives at the restaurant, you’re not to be afraid to make eye contact. He will be more afraid of you than you are of him, you're assured. After all, for him to show his face to a square person, he is exposing himself. Aside from attempting some intimidation tactics such as a menacing stare-down, there shouldn’t be any issues.

With some semblance of confidence, you proceed. You discover over steak and merlot that she’s just a girl – a girl with a family, a girl with a painful past. You laugh as she refers to you as the church lady, even more so when she learns that you, too, have a story. Maybe not as racy as hers, but certainly one that didn’t begin in a church. Then she stops calling you the church lady. We become Katrina and Monica.

Where choices seem to be far and few between, there is a light slowly being shone into this darkness.  Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services has developed a strategy to combat human trafficking. In June, with an estimated 72 million dollars in the kitty, the Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking Coordination Office will announce funding for groups that submitted proposals to collaborate their efforts to build services for those who are seeking to exit the sex industry.

The priorities are transitional and longer term housing, employment and job training, as well as addiction treatment. In addition, this initiative is also seeking to better prepare and train police services and the Crown Attorney’s office to be more sensitive and thus more effective when these cases make it to the courtroom, which, thankfully, has been on the increase.

I am not as strong as Katrina, but then again, I don’t have to be. I am blessed to know her, to walk alongside her, and to learn what it truly is to be strong, when it’s the only choice you have.

Monica Catto is an aspiring writer and Social Justice activist working in the Human Trafficking field with the White Rose Movement of Toronto. She lives in Mississauga, Ontario. 


See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How to Make Yourself Write, Saturday Oct 14, in Toronto

How to Make Yourself Write
A creativity workout
Saturday, October 14, 2017
10:15 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Glenview Church , Bethlehem Room, 1 Glenview Ave, Toronto, Ontario (Map here)

Let's get motivated! This workshop is designed to help you find the time and the inspiration to write. No more staring at a blank screen. Come to this workshop and give yourself a kick-start, and then learn how to keep going. This creativity workout will get your words flowing and help you make the breakthrough into the next level of writing.

Fee: 37.17 + hst = 42 paid in advance or 39.82 + hst = 45 if you wait to pay at the door
To reserve a spot now, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada’s most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John. But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get published. 
You can read reviews of Brian's courses and workshops here

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Book: The Silk Shroud by Jamie Tremain aka Pam Blance & Liz Lindsay

Good morning, Brian.
Pam Blance here. It has been almost ten years since I started your classes in Oakville. A friend and colleague, Liz Lindsay decided to join me on this journey of writing. We call ourselves Jamie Tremain. Liz came to your classes when you were in the Guelph area and we were hooked. We dreamt of someday being published so we continued to learn at workshops and conferences.
There were only a few bumps on the road to publication as we work well together, bar a few swear words here and there. We signed a contract two years ago, with a small boutique publishing house in Oregon – Black Opal Books - and our book The Silk Shroud was released this year. We are thrilled with the outcome.
What we did learn was patience. When we were waiting on the publishing world to recognize our genius, or hear back from an editor, the trick is to keep on writing. We also became acquainted with the writing community and would support others by way of our blog with author interviews.
We have another book that needs a bit of revising and polishing and the start of a sequel to The Silk Shroud. Working together is not for everyone but maybe the writers in your class would consider doing so. It’s good to have someone at your back.
Thanks again for your inspiring classes and we always enjoy your newsletter.
Regards,
Pam Blance
Liz Lindsay
Aka Jamie Tremain
http://jamietremain.blogspot.ca/

The Silk Shroud
Pam & Liz
What do Geisha dolls, industrial espionage, and a mysterious silken fabric have in common?
That’s the riddle that Portland, Oregon, private investigator Dorothy Dennehy has to solve when she’s hired by businessman Paul Webster. Paul’s company has become entangled in the rivalry between a firm he’s merging with and a no-holds-barred unsavory competitor. 
While Dorothy’s background as a cop combined with her expertise in using disguises – comes into play, Paul’s skills as a former intelligence officer are also an asset as the two work together to save his company from ruin. Dodging murder and kidnapping attempts, Paul and Dorothy follow a trail of clues leading to a long-forgotten art-and-antiquities theft…and murder. But the discovery of a body, showing a lack of the expected decay, has everyone puzzled. Can Paul and Dorothy survive long enough to unravel the mystery, or will they become the devious killer’s next victims?
Available through Black Opal Books here or in Kindle Edition through Amazon.ca here.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.