Saturday, January 12, 2019

Interview with Meg Wheeler of Canadian literary agency Westwood Creative Artists

Walk It Off by Ruth Marshall,
represented by WCA

Westwood Creative Artists
The Chelsea Shop
386 Huron Street
Toronto, Ontario

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Meg Wheeler was recently promoted to Associate Agent with Westwood Creative Artists {WCA}, one of Canada’s largest literary agency. It’s also one of the oldest and most respected. Clients include Mark Sakamoto, Justin Trudeau, Thomas King, Alan Doyle, Rosemary Sullivan, Kyo Maclear, Karma Brown, and Hannah Mary McKinnon (who many Quick Brown Fox readers will know from classes and workshops over the years).  There are seven agents on the team: Carolyn Forde, Jackie Kaiser, Michael A. Levine, Hilary McMahon, John Pearce, Bruce Westwood, and Meg Wheeler.
Meg agreed to be interviewed by Quick Brown Fox....

Quick Brown Fox: Tell us a bit about your background. 
Meg Wheeler
Meg: When I started my undergraduate degree at Glendon College (part of York University), I chose to study English and French because I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Halfway through my degree I wised up and realized I’d make a horrible teacher, so I started to explore other avenues that a degree in English and French can lead down. 
As a voracious reader from a young age, the publishing industry seemed like a natural fit, but I had no idea where to start or even what the different possible jobs were.
Around that same time, a poet who ran a blog I loved announced via Twitter that he’d signed a book deal. I DMed the publisher (a wonderful indie on the west coast called Central Avenue Publishing) and laid myself at her feet, and she took me on, on a freelance basis. I worked for her for a couple of years, doing a little bit of everything. She provided me with more than enough hands-on experience for me to be able to decide that I definitely wanted to pursue publishing as a career.
As my studies wound down I started looking at jobs in the field and quickly realized that most job postings requested a certificate or graduate degree in publishing. I loved being a student so I decided to pursue the graduate degree, and at the time the only MA in publishing in the country was at Simon Fraser University, but London, England, is roughly the same distance from Toronto as SFU, and I’d always wanted to travel Europe, so I decided to turn earning my degree into an adventure. I spent 12 months studying and working in the U.K., two months traveling, and then I returned home to start my job hunt.
Shortly after I came back to Canada, WCA was looking for an intern to help them with their preparations for the London Book Fair, so I stepped into that role. And then luckily a spot in WCA’s foreign rights department opened up shortly after the internship ended, and I’ve been here ever since. I started as a Rights Assistant and Executive Assistant in July 2015, was promoted to Rights Associate in 2016, to Associate Agent in late 2018, and to International Rights Director also in late 2018.

The Ice Chips and the Magical Rink by
Roy and Kerry MacGregor,
represented by WCA
QBF: What sorts of books are you looking for?
Meg: Right now I’m looking for anything and everything. I will admit I am not widely read in the science fiction and fantasy genres but what I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed (I do love Station Eleven and The Song of Ice and Fire series, and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind). 
I am looking to build a broad list. I love gripping women’s fiction, engaging nonfiction that sheds a light on something I’d previously not considered in much detail, lifestyle, literary fiction, memoir, things that push the boundaries of style and genre… You name it, I’ll read it.
When reading solely for pleasure, I tend to gravitate towards fiction over nonfiction and I love historical fiction.

QBF: What sorts of commercial fiction are you particularly interested in?
Meg: I love women’s fiction (especially women’s fiction that’s issue-driven), thrillers, and police procedurals. For example, I am a lover of Tayari Jones, Ruth Ware, and Peter James.

QBF: In literary fiction, what especially appeals to you?
Meg: I love plot-driven literary fiction that comes with gleaming prose. Many of my favourite literary novels I’ve read in the past twelve months have at least some historical element to them and all are written by own voices. For a sampling of my favourites that I read in the past year: Katherina Vermette’s The Break, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (this is a real personal favourite), John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

QBF: Are you interested in young adult or middle grade fiction at all?
Meg: I am! I represent Kerry MacGregor, co-author of the middle-grade Ice Chips series and co-author of the later titles in the Screech Owls series. I read a lot of YA in my personal time; in fact, I just finished reading If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson for the Life’s Library book club which is run on Discord.

QBF: What areas of nonfiction are you especially interested in?
Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan,
represented by WCA
Meg: Before I began signing clients with the agents at WCA I would have said that I’d represent mainly fiction as an agent, but it turns out that I seem to prefer representing nonfiction! I am a sucker for a great memoir, and I also love biographies à la Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan. I’m also really interested in current events–related nonfiction and lifestyle books. Nonfiction that’s far on the academic end of the spectrum likely won’t be up my alley.

QBF: Is there anything that seems overdone these days?
Meg: Books by YouTube celebrities are overdone and they seem to be on the way out. Also, books with “girl” in the title have been absolutely everywhere since Girl on the Train and I’m happy to report they seem to be on the way out also. Right now, books with floral covers are everywhere – I think they’re beautiful (I’m a sucker for a good floral anything), but you can’t avoid them at the moment.

QBF: Tell us about your process when you’re considering a project,
Meg: I read the query letter and sample writing, and if I am hooked enough that I want to keep reading then I’ll request the balance of the manuscript (or however much more material there is available) from the author and keep reading.
If I’m falling in love with it, I’ll do some research on the author and on the market to see what else might be out there that would either make a great comp {i.e., a published book to compare your ms to} or that might be too similar and therefore deter me from taking the project on.
If I get to the end and I’m enamoured and I think there’s room for the manuscript in the marketplace, I’ll arrange a chat with the author to make sure we’re a good fit for one another.

QBF: What grabs your attention when you’re reading a query letter?     
Meg: A query that is riddled with typos grabs my attention in a negative way. We all make mistakes (I’m sure there are typos in my responses to this interview!) but if I’m finding mistakes in every sentence then I find it hard to focus on what the writer is really trying to say.
On a more positive note, someone who’s done their homework regarding whom they’re submitting to always garners a check mark in the pro column for me. As I mentioned before, it’s really important that an author and their agent make a good team so authors should be doing their research when selecting agents to query.
Another thing that grabs my attention is if the author has followed our submission guidelines, and if they themselves have already done a little research into books that could be used as comps.

Why Young Men by Jamil Jivani,
represented by WCA
QBF: Besides a great book, what else do you look for in a client? Do you want your clients to have a strong social media presence?
Meg: A strong social media presence can be a boon but it is not necessary. If I can successfully place the author’s book with a publisher, then the publisher’s publicist in conjunction with WCA can help the author build an online presence if we’re all agreed it’s needed. I have signed clients who have no social media accounts whatsoever, so it isn’t an insurmountable hurdle.
But if an author does have a strong social media presence and they have been published previously by journals, online or print magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. that does add another dimension to the project as a whole.

QBF: What writing advice do you most often give your clients?
Meg: I don’t always give this advice (it depends on the project) but something I often tell clients is to step away from their work for a while, especially when it’s fiction. After months and years of working on a book, sometimes you get too close to it and need a break so that you can read it with fresh eyes and a new perspective down the road. I know this seems a little counterintuitive, because the longer a break you take the longer it takes to get the book out on submission, but I have found this to be supremely helpful when working with fiction writers.
I also advise clients that it is hugely important to continue reading. Some authors like to stop reading while they’re writing so that they don’t inadvertently pick up something stylistic from the books their reading, but in general, reading widely makes everyone a better writer.

QBF: What would you like writers to know about the publishing industry?
Meg: Be prepared for rejections. You will likely endure many rejections from agents, but try to bear in mind that they aren’t rejecting you personally. And if you do land an agent, then more rejection is likely to follow from editors before the right editor is found. I sound like a total downer, I realize, but it’s not all bad: it only takes one agent and one editor. This is such a subjective business that it takes time to find the right champions.
Also, feel free to ask questions! The publishing industry is notoriously opaque in how it works and I encourage questions.

QBF: What would you like to say to aspiring authors?
The Life Lucy Knew by Karma Brown,
represented by WCA
Meg: Don’t give up hope, and as I said earlier, it only takes one. You might be having trouble finding an agent or an editor for this particular book, and maybe the time for it just isn’t right, right now. Revisit it in the future, and try to write and read more in the meantime.

Query Meg at:
Include the word “query” in the subject line. See WCAs full submission guidelines here.

The best way to grow as a writer is with a weekly course and there are five courses starting soon (details of all five here):
Exploring Creative Writing, Thursday afternoons, January 24 – April 5 (no class March 14), in Burlington,  Details here
Writing Kid Lit, Thursday evenings, Jan 24 – March 28 (no class March 14), in Oakville. Details here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Tuesday afternoons, Jan 22 – April 2 (no class March 12); first readings emailed Jan 15, in Burlington. Details here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings Jan 23 – April 3 (no class March 13); first readings emailed Jan 16, in Burlington. Details here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Friday mornings Jan 25 – April 5 / 12 (10 or 11 weeks, no class March 13); first readings emailed Jan 16, in Toronto. Details here.
            Details of all 5 classes here.

Her Secret Son, coming May 2019
by Hannah Mary McKinnon
represented by WCA
Also coming soon: How to Build Your Story: Plotting novels & Writing short stories with guest author Hannah Mary McKinnon, Saturday, Jan 19 in Oakville (see here),  Writing and Revising, Sat, Jan 26, in Caledon at the Bolton Library (see here), Writing with Style, Saturday, Feb 23, in Waterloo (see here) and Saturday, March 16, in Mississauga (see here), and How to Write a Bestseller,  with New York Times #1 bestselling author Kelley Armstrong (see here).

A weekend writing retreat:
Algonquin Writing Retreat, Friday, May 31 – Monday, June 3, 2019: four days in the luxurious isolation of Arowhon Pines Resort to get down to some real creative growth. Details here.

Spring courses:
Toronto: Welcome to Creative Writing, Friday afternoons, April 26 – June 28 (No class May 31). Details here.
Oakville Central Library: Personal Stories, Thursday evenings, April 18 – June 27 (No class  May 30). Details here.
Burlington: Intensive Creative Writing, Tuesday afternoons, 12:30 – 2:45; April 16 – June 25 (No class June 4 (10 weeks) . Details to come.
Burlington: Intensive Creative Writing, Wednesday afternoons, 12:30 – 2:45; April 17 – June 19. Details to come.
Georgetown: Intensive Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings, 6:45 – 9:00; April 17 – June 19. Details to come.
Toronto: Intensive Creative Writing, Friday mornings, 10:15 – 12:30 / 12: 45, April 26 – June 28. (No class May 31). Details to come.

To reserve a spot in any upcoming weekly course, weekend retreat, or Saturday workshop, email Brian at:
Read reviews of Brian’s courses, retreats, and workshops here.

See Brian’s complete current schedule hereincluding Saturday writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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1 comment:

  1. A great interview! Meg is such a supportive professional. Her insights and advice are very valuable and she is so approachable.


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