Category Archives: RMFW Conference

Raising the Bar

By Shannon Baker
Photos by Mark Stevens

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. See how many times Writer is used in that title? That means it’s an award for a writer voted on by writers. And for this one moment in time—well a whole freaking year!—I get to be The Writer of the Year. That probably sounds self-promoting and egotistical, but I’m throwing manners out the window and, in fact, might actually shout it out that same window. I get to be the Writer of the Year!

Shannon Baker WOTY2It was such a thrill to be nominated with Christine Jorgenson and Terry Wright. Christine has penned two series and this year was nominated for the Colorado Book Awards. She also received the Writer of the Year honor in 1995. She’s not only an accomplished writer but is the nicest woman on the planet. Terry has his own publishing company and is a legend creating book trailers. Even his name is all about writing.

We writers can be a funny lot, or as the man I live with says, crazy. At least, I can. Among other issues, I have what I call Raising the Bar Syndrome. It goes something like this: I get a glimpse of something I want to achieve, I set a goal. I work really hard toward that goal. If I finally get there, I spend about 1.5 seconds of happiness and then see that I’m nowhere near successful because if I were a real writer, I’d be (points finger into the distance) there.

I came to my first Colorado Gold conference somewhere around 1994, toting my second completed manuscript, sure it was brilliant. It wasn’t. A very New York editor pointed out to me just how far from brilliant it was. I was smart enough to believe him. I needed to learn a ton just to know the basics of why it failed, let alone how to go about fixing it. At that conference, I sat at the banquet and watched as the contest winners were announced. Wow, I thought. If I could only win the contest, I’d know I was a real writer.

I set about the painful task of learning to write. I hate to say that for me, as it is for many, it’s a slow process and one that will never end. I can improve, and improve, and still, there is room for improvement. But after a couple of years, I did win the contest. Twice. That’s a thrill and a milestone and should be celebrated. It means a writer has reached a certain level and should be congratulated.

But self-congrats were soon replaced with a new goal. Look at those writers getting their Pen Awards, RMFW’s acknowledgement of a first sale. If I got one of those I’d be a real writer. I kept at my craft. I worked hard. I sent out hundreds of query letters. I tweaked and revised and rewrote. After a very long time, I finally joined the ranks of the traditionally published and took home my Pen Award.

But that contract wasn’t all I’d hoped and I wasn’t satisfied. I told my husband, “If I can get a contract for three books with a decent press, I’ll be happy. I can say I’m a real writer and will never have to write another book.” And guess what? After a few more years, that’s exactly what happened. Two books of that contract are on the shelves with the third due next spring.

But I’m a nobody in the grand scheme of publishing. I know some big deals in that world and I can tell you, I’m small potatoes. I’ve just finished the first book in a new series and maybe if I sell it and it takes off I’ll really be a writer. Raising the Bar Syndrome is in full flower.

Shannon Baker WOTY1But here’s a twist. This summer, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers honored me with Writer of the Year. That’s as high as the bar goes. For twenty years I’ve seen that title awarded to the creamiest crème de la crème. This is a rare time in my writerly journey when I will pause and let myself revel. For once I’ll make no excuses or justifications or downplay it. I’m going to be a big, fat, obnoxious self-centered peacock. Further, I’ll frame the certificate and display it proudly and go to it whenever I feel like a failure or a poseur. It is my proof that I AM a writer. My writer tribe told me so.

Thank you, RMFW. Thank you very much.

Please join 2013 Writer of the Year Linda Joffe Hull and this year’s nominees, Christine Jorgenson, Terry Wright, and me at the Tattered Cover on Colfax August 14th at 7:00 PM as we rev up for the Colorado Gold Conference. One free conference will be given away, as well as lunch with lunch with J. Ellen Smith, publisher of Champagne Book Group, lunch with Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher at Elora’s Cave and lunch with NYT Bestselling author William Kent Krueger.

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Broken Trust, book two of the series, takes place in Boulder, CO and was released in March. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is nominated for 2104 Writer of the Year. She is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

An Interview with Shannon Hassan, Literary Agent with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

shannonhassan“Shannon Hassan, an agent at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, brings a depth of business and editorial experience to her role, having worked in publishing and law for more than a decade. She represents authors of upmarket and literary fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction, and select nonfiction. She is drawn to fresh voices, compelling characters, and crisp prose, and she enjoys both contemporary and historical settings. Based in Boulder, Colorado, she is also eager to hear from authors with a unique perspective on the New West. She does not generally represent genre fiction in the areas of horror, sci fi, or epic fantasy for adults. Before becoming an agent, Shannon was the Acquisitions Editor at Fulcrum Publishing, and prior to that a corporate attorney at Arnold and Porter in New York. She received her JD from Harvard and her BA from George Washington University.”

Pat: Shannon, thank you so much for allowing us to ask you a few questions. We’re hoping conference attendees will benefit from these interviews and that potential attendees will click that “Register here” button.

You’ve had a varied career, not only in publishing but also in corporate law. What lured you away from the legal field and led you to becoming a literary agent?

Shannon: I followed my passion into publishing, and couldn’t be happier working with authors and helping them achieve their publishing goals. Becoming an agent was good a fit for me because it combines the editorial skills and business experience I’ve gained over the years.

Pat: You joined the Marsal Lyon Agency in late 2013, but it looks as though you’ve jumped into your new position with great energy and enthusiasm. You have at least five conferences or major book events scheduled this year. What do you like most about attending conferences?

Shannon: The best part about conferences is the chance to get to know so many great people who share a love for books and publishing– authors, editors, and other agents alike. Not only have I found terrific new authors, I have also made new (or deeper) connections with others in the industry. I also love the relaxed environment that conferences offer. I just went hiking with an editor at my last conference—what a fun way to get to know someone!

Pat: Writers get a lot of advice about how to deliver elevator pitches, but I’m not sure agents enjoy that process very much. When a writer meets you on the elevator (and gets past the initial shock of suddenly being face-to-face with the very agent she wants to meet), should she avoid mentioning her novel and offer to buy you a drink instead? Could you talk a bit about those accidental meetings and how a writer can be professional but still get your attention?

Shannon: I don’t mind accidental/unscheduled meetings at all, as I enjoy getting to know new writers. I would just recommend that a writer try to read the situation before diving in. In other words, does the agent seem open to chatting? Maybe introduce yourself and start a conversation. Or is the agent rushing to an event, or on the way to the bathroom? Maybe not the best time!

Pat: When you participate in those 8 to 12 minute pitch sessions at conferences, what do you consider a great—and hopefully for the author, successful—session? What makes you uncomfortable? Do you have a “worst pitch appointment ever” anecdote for us?

Shannon: Be able to describe your book succinctly. Know your genre and target audience and have some similar “comp” titles in mind. Also, have a few general questions about your work and/or the publishing process prepared in advance. That way, in case your project isn’t sounding like a fit for the agent for whatever reason, at least you are making good use of your time together.

In terms of what NOT to do—well, don’t start off by comparing yourself to Shakespeare or other luminaries (This has actually happened to me). And I personally don’t like to receive pitches for multiple projects—choose your strongest idea.

Overall I’d say just try to relax and make it a conversation– it’s about trying to connect with the agent, not about delivering the most perfect pitch since the dawn of time.

Pat: If an author has successfully pitched his project to you at Colorado Gold, and you’ve requested at least a synopsis and three chapters, how soon would you expect to receive the submission? Can you pin down the top three qualities in that submission that would prompt you to ask for the full manuscript?

Shannon: I don’t have an expected timeline and would hate to see someone rush to send me a submission that is not ready. It is an opportunity—take your time, and do it right. And then when you do send it, make sure to remind me in the subject line that we met at Colorado Gold and I requested these pages.

As to the top three qualities that I look for: (1) exceptional writing, (2) compelling characters, (3) a strong hook.

Pat: Would you tell us about a few of the authors’ books you represent and those you expect to see released in the next few months? We’d love to hear about the projects that get you most excited.

Shannon: I’m excited about a lot of things! I just saw the cover mock-up (always fun!) of THE AFTERLIFE ACADEMY, a funny, imaginative middle grade novel by Frank Cole, coming out by Penguin Random House next year. I’m also looking forward to the September launch of VISION, a gripping YA suspense by critically acclaimed YA author Lisa Amowitz. On the adult side, I am excited about the recent sales of MOON IN THE PALACE, a page-turning historical series by debut author Weina Randel, and ALMOST ANYWHERE, an exquisite memoir by award-winning conservationist and photographer Krista Schlyer.

Pat: What genres do you represent? What genres do you read for fun (assuming you do occasionally have time to read for fun)?

Shannon: I am looking for upmarket and literary fiction, and fresh-voiced YA and MG fiction. I am most interested in smart, character-driven stories that straddle the line between literary and commercial, and enjoy both contemporary and historical settings. You can read more about my background and interests at the agency website.

Pat: You are based in Boulder, Colorado. That seems very logical to me because we have an amazing number of outstanding writers in this state. Others wonder if that puts you at a disadvantage when trying to place your authors’ books with New York Publishers. How do you deal with that distance issue? Do you miss living in the big city?

Shannon: No, I don’t find the distance to be an issue. I used to live in NYC and I go there quite often (I went twice last month!) and stay in good touch with editors there. Not to mention that there are also terrific publishers that aren’t based in New York. I do occasionally miss the energy of living in a big city and my friends there, but after a few days of getting my “city fix,” I am ready for a long bike ride or hike in the foothills.

Pat: Finally, and way off the subject of writing and getting published, would you tell us something fun about yourself that most people don’t know?

Shannon: I love to travel. My family (husband and ten-year-old twins) have been all over South America, including Patagonia and Easter Island, and to parts of Asia. More on the horizon I hope!

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to our questions, Shannon. We’ll be looking forward to meeting you at Colorado Gold.

Thanks for the interview Pat. I have heard such great things about Colorado Gold and I am really looking forward to it!

5 Ways to Pick a Mystery Writer Out in a Crowd

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

In honor of mystery writer friend, Shannon Baker’s winning Writer of the Year for RMFW I’ve decided to offer some helpful tips to those needing a little help picking out a mystery writer when in a crowded room. This will be helpful in September during the Colorado Gold Conference, so take note!

5)  See that woman with the grey hair? Yep. She’s a mystery writer. In fact, most mystery writers I know are older women same as mystery readers. The bloodier the better for this blood-thirsty lot. That’s why we love them (and yes, I am one of them, I just use a lot of hair dye and lye to get rid of the bodies).

4)  See that guy twirling the end of his mustache? Nope, not a writer, just a serial killer, but if you look directly behind him to the woman unabashedly taking notes on his every move, yep, mystery writer.

3)  Ink and often blood stained hands.

2)  Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? A mystery writer will answer gun 98 out of 100 times. The other two times the answer is rope and penis.

1)  Any guy driving a Magnum PI car and wearing Hawaiian shirts outside Hawaii (Mario Acevedo and Tim Dorsey come to mind).

You’re welcome.

Any other ways you know of to determine if you have a mystery writer in your midst?

Forget the Money: Show Me the Contract

By Susan Spann

This September, I’m co-teaching a workshop at Colorado Gold with Midnight Ink editor Terri Bischoff. The workshop, titled “Contract Law: Where You Can Make a Difference,” is intended to offer advanced-level instruction on which publishing contract clauses are (and are not) negotiable.

In preparation for that, my guest posts between now and Colorado Gold will offer some entry and mid-level information about the contracts process, to help authors get up to speed for the information Terri and I will present at Colorado Gold.

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For many authors, obtaining a publishing contract is a lifelong dream-come-true.

It doesn’t matter whether you publish traditionally, through a self-publishing service like Amazon or CreateSpace, or with a hybrid publisher who gives the author significant control over things like cover art and pricing.

Getting your novels into print is both the fulfillment of a dream … and also the start of a business endeavor.

Smart authors remember to treat it as both.

No matter which publishing route you use, you must have a written contract. Copyright law requires one when rights are licensed on an exclusive basis (which is the case with most publishing contracts), and no smart author would ever publish a book without some writing governing the terms of the publishing deal.

In the case of self-publishing venues like Amazon, CreateSpace, and others, that writing is often the online Terms of Use.  Authors should treat those terms of use like a contract–albeit a nonnegotiable one, since website publishers generally will not change any terms of those contracts on an individual basis. Even so, online terms of use have been held just as binding as written contracts–so beware.

Many authors make serious contract mistakes because they allow emotion to get in the way of business sense. Don’t be that person.

When presented with a publishing contract (or preparing to self-publish your work), remember:

1. The financial terms (royalties and advances) are important, but NOT AS IMPORTANT as the sum of all of the legal terms in the contract. Don’t let royalties or advances blind you to the other legal terms.

2. Read the entire contract carefully, and get experienced legal help with anything you don’t understand. This help might come from an agent or an attorney — but it should always come from someone not affiliated with the publisher. The publisher may or may not be honest–but publishers have a conflict of interest when it comes to explaining your legal rights. It’s always more expensive to try and break a contract after the fact than it is to find out what the contract says up front.

3. Remember that contracts are legally binding documents — and that ONLY the actual words in the contract govern your legal relationship with the publisher. Emails, telephone calls, and other promises don’t mean anything if they’re not included in the contract. In some cases, a court may even prevent you from introducing evidence that “outside promises” even existed. Treat the contract as if it’s the only document that matters, and the only thing controlling your relationship with the publisher–and then make sure that everything is included.

4. Be wary of ANY contract which doesn’t comply with industry standards. In particular, beware: nondisclosure clauses (which prevent the author from talking about the publisher in public or on social media), non-competition clauses preventing the author from publishing ANY other works of any length without the publisher’s permission, a total lack of termination options for the author, and “out of print” clauses tied to inventory or “on sale status” rather than sales figures. These aren’t the only warning flags, but a contract which contains one or more of these must be approached with caution (and a lawyer in your corner).

These aren’t the only things to beware in your publishing contract, but they’re a decent start. Next month, we’ll take a look at some more contract pitfalls to avoid.

In the meantime – keep treating your writing as a business and remembering that, regardless of your publishing path, YOU are the one in charge of your publishing career.

***

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

An Interview with Literary Associate Elizabeth Copps

Interview by Janet Fogg (We’re simul-publishing Janet’s interview with Chiseled in Rock blog)

Elizabeth CoppsToday, I have the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Copps, Literary Associate with the Maria Carvainis Agency, Inc.

Elizabeth began her publishing career in 2010 as an MCA intern after graduating from Florida State University with a BA in English Literature. She was thrilled to join the agency full-time in 2011 as the new literary assistant. Two years later, she was offered the position of literary associate and is incredibly excited to build her own list of authors.

Elizabeth considers herself an eclectic reader, but she is particularly interested in literary, multicultural and contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult and young adult crossover, gritty thrillers and mysteries, memoir and romantic suspense. She appreciates rich and believable characters who immediately draw readers into their world, and she is always captivated by a startling plot twist. Her favorite authors include, John Boyne, Chris Cleave, Gillian Flynn, John Green, Joanne Harris, Jhumpa Lahiri, Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, Daphne du Maurier, David Sedaris, Jeanette Walls, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

MCA’s clients include Mary Balogh, Sandra Brown, Candace Camp, Cindy Gerard, Kristan Higgins, Will Thomas, and Laura Wright among others.

Thank you for joining us, Elizabeth!

JF: Please tell us about your typical work day (and how many manuscripts you usually have waiting in your inbox).

EC: Our solicited manuscript log is ongoing, so I have a lot to sift through every day. I usually read between 5 and 10 manuscripts a week depending on whether I am reading partial or full projects. Regarding query letters—the agency usually receives between 20 and 25 letters a day. We try our best to respond to every query within 10 business days of receipt.

JF: What gets you excited in a query letter? Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to submissions?

EC: Queries that read similarly to a blurb on the back of a book always make me sit up and take notice. I love tight, witty language. Additionally, I want to be hooked by a story’s concept from the first sentence or two of the pitch—but fascinating and unusual characters appeal to me as equally as an intriguing plot.

As far as pet peeves are concerned, I have three biggies:
1. Failing to research our agency’s submission guidelines. It’s clear to me when authors have not done their due diligence. Query letters that are not personalized, or queries with 30 other agents copied on the same email are giveaways.

2. Providing biographical information before describing the writing project. I’m very interested in hearing about a writer’s credentials or reading a short biography, but a writer’s first job is to sell me on their book.

3. Starting with an excerpt of the novel instead of a formal pitch. I appreciate receiving 10-15 sample pages in a separate attachment so I can get a sense of the writing, but it is disorienting to begin reading a sample without any context.

JF: Certain agents edit a manuscript prior to shopping it to editors. Others don’t. How would you describe your process?

EC: Providing our authors strong editorial feedback is a service we pride ourselves on at MCA. We want the best, most polished version of our client’s work to land on an editor’s desk.

JF: What do you enjoy most about representing authors to the publishing industry? Least?

EC: In publishing, I really do feel like I get to have my cake and eat it too. I have the privilege of working with highly creative minds as well as impressively business-savvy men and women. I love that I’m in a position where the two sides of the industry merge.

The most unenjoyable aspect of the business has to be sending rejection letters. It’s a necessity, but it can be really difficult. Agents receive rejection letters too, so I know that it is never a good feeling to see one pop up in your inbox.

JF: Which social media venues do you consider most important for authors: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there others you recommend?

EC: Knowing their way around all types of social media platforms can only benefit authors, especially those who are hybrid or self-published writers. I will say that I believe having a strong website is a necessary foundation for any writer. A website should contain links to an author’s Facebook, Twitter, blog etc. as well as the option to sign up for a weekly or monthly newsletter. Play to your strengths. For example, if you know you can keep up a Twitter account, do so. If you know you hate Facebook and will rarely post, you won’t do yourself or your readers any favors by starting up an account.

JF: What one piece of advice would you offer to authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?

EC: Have fun with it! Tell me why you’re passionate about the book you wrote. If I can see how enthusiastic you are about the characters and the plot, chances are I’ll be excited to read your work too.

JF: What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

EC: I’m a big foodie, and I should probably make my motto something along the lines of, “no cookie left behind.” I also have a serious travel bug. This year I am lucky enough to be doing quite a bit of domestic travel for business. Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee and of course Colorado are on the docket thus far for 2014.

JF: Now I would like to ask an off-track question. What did you dream of doing when you were twelve years old?

EC: I was convinced that I was going to be a famous painter. The best afterschool class my mom ever enrolled me in was called “Art Safari.” The classroom was in a converted warehouse, and the teacher filled it floor to ceiling with every art supply imaginable. The first day I walked in she looked at me and said, “Create!” It was pretty magical.

Thank you, Elizabeth!

You can visit http://mariacarvainisagency.com/ for submission guidelines, or meet with Elizabeth in Denver when she joins us at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference, September 5-7, 2014.

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Janet Fogg by Aspen copyJanet Fogg’s focus on novel-length fiction began when she was CFO and Managing Principal of OZ Architecture, one of Colorado’s largest (and coolest!) architectural firms. Fifteen writing awards later Janet resigned from OZ to follow the yellow brick road, and Soliloquy, a HOLT Medallion Award of Merit winner, was released by The Wild Rose Press in 2009. Fogg in the Cockpit, co-authored by Janet and her husband Richard, was released worldwide in 2011 by Casemate Publishing. This Military Book Club best seller received a 2013 Air Force Historical Foundation nomination for best WWII book reviewed in Air Power History. Janet served on RMFW’s 2010 Board of Directors as PAL Liaison. You can visit Janet at her website.

Look Who’s Coming to Colorado Gold: Matthew Martz, Crooked Lane Books

MattMartzMatt Martz began his publishing career in 2004 and joined Crooked Lane Books / Quick Brown Fox & Company in 2014 after 8 years on the editorial staff at St. Martin’s Press and Minotaur Books. He publishes crime fiction ranging from traditional mysteries to high concept thrillers. The authors with whom he has worked include Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Kelli Stanley and Barry Award nominee Tim O’Mara.

Pat: Matt, thank you so much taking the time to answer a few questions for us prior to the Colorado Gold Conference. Hopefully these interviews will help conference attendees select the best agent or editor for their pitches or critique workshops (and persuade a lot of potential attendees to join us in September).

Will this be the first time you’ve attended Colorado Gold? What’s your favorite part of the conference experience?

Matt: Happy to. This will be my first time attending Colorado Gold, and I’m really looking forward to it. My favorite part of the conference experience is meeting with new authors and helping them both in terms of their writing as well as their understanding of the publishing industry, which can be a little less than intuitive at times. I also enjoy hearing ideas from other professionals. There are number of talented people out there, and getting their insights on the business can be invaluable.

Pat: Would you tell us all about Quick Brown Fox & Company? Is it a new venture? Is it part of St. Martin’s Press or a completely separate company? With no specific website presence, how does The Quick Brown Fox find great authors and crime novels?

Matt: Quick Brown Fox & Co. is a new venture. It is a publishing startup with a terrific marketing affiliation with Bookspan. Bookspan is the owner of the country’s premier book clubs, including Book-of-the-Month, Doubleday, Literary Guild, and, of course, Mystery Guild, among others. We have tremendous resources to help readers discover new authors and launch careers. The focus of our first imprint Crooked Lane Books will be on crime fiction. The titles we will publish range from high concept thrillers to traditional mysteries and domestic suspense. While our website is not up as I’m writing, it will be up by mid-July (2014). In fact, I’ll be working on that this afternoon.

Pat: Please tell us a little about your background and what led you to join the world of publishing.

Matt: Whenever I’m asked how I came to a publishing career, I normally say that it was a combination of a misspent youth followed by an over-education in a field with questionable employment prospects. You’ll be amazed how well this summary covers most publishing professionals… or at least editors. My misspent youth was spent reading too many books, which led to a graduate program in creative writing. From there I took a job with Minotaur Books where I fell for crime fiction. The combination of top-notch writing and gripping plots made it the perfect home for me, not to mention plenty of readers.

Pat: What do you think of the whole concept of authors pitching to an agent or editor in ten minutes or less? Is there anything a writer can do during one of these sessions to make you more interested in seeing his work? Anything that’s an immediate turnoff?

Matt: The concept of trying to pitch a book in 10 minutes or less is hard, and it seems a little silly at this stage, but is important and necessary. In many ways, the publishing industry works like a game of telephone. The author tells the agent about a book. The agent passes the message onto the editor. The editor passes the message onto marketing, publicity, subrights, and sales who then pass it on to reviewers, bookstores, foreign publishers, and readers. Having a succinct and engaging message is very important.

When presenting a book, writers want to make sure that the editor understands why the book is worth reading, that writer is the right person to write the book, and the writer is the right person to present the book.

Less is more. Let the editors and agents know how you open the book, give them some idea whom the characters are, and give them a surprising twist or conflict. Stay away from running down the whole plot. And if you’re fortunate enough to have an agent or editor ask to see more of your work, give them whatever they want and then get heck out of there. Don’t sell past the close.

Pat: The conference schedule says you’ll be conducting one of the Agent/Editor Morning Critique Workshops. Many of our members have found their agent or publisher this way, so they’re very popular. What do you hope to see among the writing submissions (any particular sub-genre, a story line you’ve been hoping for, historical time period, or even a specific type of character)?

Matt: My focus is on crime fiction. That is a very broad genre, which is one of the main reasons why I love working in it. While I want to see terrific writing and a plot that moves, I also want to see manuscripts that fit into a recognizable subgenre. If a writer is working on a traditional, I want to see that charm, wit or puzzle on every page. If it’s a thriller, I want a fast opening and a high concept worth thinking about. If it’s a suspense novel, then I want to see that family under siege, and I want the book to tug on my heartstrings. More than anything else, I want to see writers who understand the genre they’re writing in and the readers that they’re trying to reach. Writers who can do that would find a very happy home with us.

Pat: How does a writer submit queries or partials to The Quick Brown Fox & Company? Are you open to unagented submissions from writers you haven’t met at conference?

Matt: Unfortunately, due to the quantity of submissions that we receive from agents, referred by writers we know, or manuscripts we solicit, we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts at this time. My advice is to find me during the conference and hit me with a pitch. That’s what I’m there for, so please don’t be shy.

Pat: Crime fiction covers a very broad range from cozy mystery to international thriller. What specific sub-genres do you prefer, both for personal reading and for potential publication?

Matt: My personal reading is broad, and I make a conscious effort to make sure that my tastes do not get in the way of what readers are looking for. Sometimes what an editor likes can blind them to what others like. We read a lot more books than the vast majority of the audience. For the most part, that’s a good thing but not always.

I may have answered this question to a certain extent a little earlier in this interview. I’m not interested in particular subgenre so much as I’m interested in writers who clearly understand the rules of their subgenre. Crime fiction has quite a few rules, which makes for some excellent writing. Authors who know how to give the readers the type of experience that they’re looking for are authors who will have long careers.

Pat: You keep a very low profile online, Matt. As a consolation prize for doing a lot of research with no good results, would you reveal something about yourself that will make us laugh?

Matt: I wish I could, but it’s against the rules of the witness protection program.

Pat:  That works! I laughed.

Thanks again, Matt. We appreciate your participation in our Colorado Gold Interview Project. We’re looking forward to meeting you in September.

How to find all those Colorado Gold agent/editor/speaker interviews

Our regular blog contributors and guests have been busy interviewing the agents, editors, and speakers who will attend the Colorado Gold Conference in Westminster September 5-7.

We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for you to find and read those interviews. On the day they post, we put the link on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Facebook page and the RMFW Google+ page. The link usually gets tweeted a couple of times as well.

On the home page of the RMFW website, there’s a link to the interview list. The link is called 2014 Conference Guest Interviews. That link takes you to a concise list of the published posts with an individual link to each.

Additional interviews scheduled so far include Elizabeth Copps on Tuesday, July 15th. We’ll have more on the schedule soon.

Meanwhile, you can go to the 2014 Conference Guest Interview page to view the ten interviews published so far.

Look Who is Coming to Colorado Gold: A Conversation with Agent Sue Brower

By Kerry Schafer

Last month I had the privilege of posting an interview with Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency. Today, I’d like you to meet Sue Brower, another fabulous agent, who works with the Natasha Kern Agency.

suebrowerSue Brower loves finding and developing authors and connecting them with the reader. Book publishing has changed dramatically over the past several years and it’s no secret that the novels that create buzz through their unique writing or concepts are the ones that become bestsellers. Over the past 25 years in publishing, Sue has done marketing, editing, story development and acquisitions for Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. Most recently, she was Executive Editor and had the privilege of working with New York Times bestselling authors Karen Kingsbury, Tim LaHaye, Stephen Carter, and Terri Blackstock and was named ACFW’s Editor of the Year in 2010. And now she is fortunate to partner with Natasha Kern at the Natasha Kern Literary Agency. Sue’s been an avid fiction fan since childhood and loves the way stories are able to change lives, heal hearts, and bring joy to readers. Today, she wants to read and acquire women’s contemporary fiction, any kind of romance, suspense, mystery and historical novels. She would love to discover the next breakaway author in any of these genres.

Kerry: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Sue. I’m looking forward to meeting you in Colorado! But first things first. Your bio tells us that you are interested in acquiring women’s contemporary fiction, and also romance, suspense, mystery, and historical novels. Could you tell us a little bit more about what gets you excited?

Sue: I like stories with strong characterization and a well-paced plot.  One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: “…fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind.” I want to be so engrossed in the story that I am disoriented when I close the book. I do not acquire based solely on genre because publisher and consumer trends change so quickly.  But give me a well written book and I think I can pitch it anywhere, anytime.

Kerry: What was the last book you read for pleasure and what did you love (or not) about it?

Sue: I have been on an odyssey the last six months or so to read beyond my normal  favorites. Unfortunately, that left a lot of books unfinished. Probably the most memorable book I’ve read recently is Reconstructing Amelia.  It was a little dark and had some themes that put me off, but it was compelling and I still remember many of the characters.  The best book I’ve read that feeds my love of romantic fiction was Julianne Donaldson’s Blackmoore.  I loved that it drew me into an era that I read a lot about, yet this felt new and refreshing.

Kerry: Now that I have a couple of new books to add to my towering To Be Read pile, could you talk a bit about how you view the author/agent relationship? This seems to be a hot topic for writers these days.

Sue: I view the author/agent relationship as a partnership.  As a former editor and marketer, I tend to be very opinionated, so the writer needs to be open to input on their writing, where they should be spending their time, and how they should brand themselves. Notice I said “input.” I want to be available to help an author to succeed at building a writing career.

Kerry: I think that input is one of the things that makes an agent so important to a writer. Things have changed a lot in publishing over the last few years, and it gets overwhelming trying to figure out where to spend your time. Another question writers often have involves what you see as your role in publishing, and how do you help your clients navigate the slippery territory spawned by Amazon and self publishing?

Sue: I see my role as coach, career counselor, advocate, listening post, and biggest fan.  Editors today do not have time to acquire projects that just have potential. The editorial staff has more and more to do and there are fewer of them doing it. It’s my job to make sure that what I send out truly represents the writer’s best abilities.  With regards to the various ways that a writer can be published, I think we, as agents, should be aware of the pitfalls of self-publishing and coach the writer to make the best choices for their career goals.

Kerry: I see that your agency is closed to unsolicited manuscripts—do you have any advice as to how a querying author could still get your attention?

Sue: There are a number of ways that a writer can get their manuscript in front of me.  The best ways are through referrals from current client authors and through conferences.  I would also say that if you respond to a blog or online class that I am a part of, I would be open to talking with you about your manuscript.

Kerry: Could you tell us a little about what happens when writers pitch to you at a conference?

Sue: When a writer pitches to me at a conference, they need to have a completed manuscript ready to be reviewed.  I want the writer to tell me what their story is about and anything about their research or background that supports why their book is fresh or unique. I will look at a one-page, but I want to hear the writer to engage in conversation with me. If I am interested, I will ask for a proposal, synopsis, and three sample chapters to be emailed to me. If that looks good, I will ask for a full manuscript. Writing conferences are a great way to reach your preferred agent or editor since most will not accept unsolicited manuscripts.  I would absolutely ask for anything that interests me.

Kerry: If you are considering a project that doesn’t immediately shout “pick me pick me” – what tips the balance toward acceptance?

Sue: I don’t usually consider projects that don’t shout “pick me up.” I have too much to read and too many queries to follow up on.  The things that tip the balance for me are usually in the writing. If I am intrigued by a project, but the writing isn’t quite there, I will look for possibilities. Are they willing to revise? How much work will it take to get it ready for the publisher? If I am interested in an author, I usually want to have a phone chat before making an offer. If I see that they are not open to constructive criticism, or are reluctant to do the work, I will pass on the project.  Also, if there is just too much work that needs to be done, I will have to put it aside. I usually make a few recommendations including finding a critique group or editor and I offer to look at it one more time.

Kerry: Are you open to authors pitching their books to you if they see you out and about in the hallways or the bar?

Sue: No. The worse pitch I ever received happened when I was leaving a dinner on the last day of a conference and I was obviously worn out and sick with a cold, but the writer wouldn’t let me politely decline a conversation. It’s never good to approach an agent when they are heading to a meeting or relaxing with colleagues after a long day. It’s absolutely forbidden to approach them in a restroom!

Kerry: I’ve heard horror stories. Personally, I can’t imagine the desperation that would drive a writer to the bathroom pitch, but I know it happens. Would you prefer writers keep to the boundaries of scheduled pitch sessions entirely?

Sue: I think that depends on who the agent is.  If I am sitting in a common area (lobby, for instance) and not already talking to someone, I am open to a writer starting a conversation.

Kerry: Last and most importantly, what is your beverage of choice? Just in case we do find you hanging out in the bar and would like to show our appreciation for spending time with us at Colorado Gold.

Sue: My favorite drink is Diet Coke. I am particularly open to this approach when the venue is Pepsi only!

Kerry: Excellent. I’m a Coke fan myself, so if the venue happens to be misguided I will try to snag you a drink from somewhere. Thank you again for taking the time to answer my many questions.

Interview with Jessica Renheim, Associate Editor of Dutton/Penguin Group

Interview originally published at Chiseled in Rock blog by Dave Jackson on June 4, 2014.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is pleased to welcome Jessica Renheim to the Colorado Gold Conference September 5th through the 7th.

jessicarenheimJess joined Dutton in 2007 and has been there ever since. She edits both fiction and nonfiction at Dutton, including speculative and paranormal fiction, mystery/crime, thrillers, narrative nonfiction, and memoir. Among the bestselling and critically acclaimed writers she has worked with are the #1 New York Times bestselling authors Richelle Mead and Kelley Armstrong, as well as New York Times bestselling and award-winning writers Mark Adams, Dan Savage, Stephen White, Meg Gardiner, Brian D’Amato, Jennifer Lee Carrell, Raymond Khoury, and David Rich.

We are particularly pleased to interview Jessica because she apparently makes rare appearances on blogs!

CIR: How important is it for an author to be flexible with edits? By the way, I’m so flexible my leg is curled around my head as I write this.

JR: Flexibility with edits is always very welcome, but ultimately it’s the author’s book so he/she is going have the final say on most things. The editor’s primary job is to provide guidance where we think it’s needed. Is a certain character feeling too one-dimensional or predictable? Is it too easy to guess the mystery at the heart of the novel? Or is there some inconsistency between the start of the story and the climactic showdown at the end? These are the kind of editorial questions and concerns that may need to be addressed to make the book better, and I’ve been very fortunate to work with talented writers who can step back from their work and assess what’s clicking and what needs to be reconsidered.

CIR: In just the past few years the major publishing houses have become very active with electronic publishing. Can and or will this open the door for more experimental stories to be published in New York from unknown authors since costs can be saved on printing?

JR: I think so. There are quite a few digital original or digital only imprints publishing new authors across different genres these days. One recent example is Tor.com announcing the launch of a new imprint devoted to publishing original novellas, shorter novels and serializations. This seems like a natural area of growth for science fiction and fantasy, and a great way for aspiring writers to get stories published that wouldn’t have been the right fit for more traditional formats due to length or other considerations.

CIR: Have you had the chance to meet any celebrities and if so, who was the coolest?

JR: Dutton publishes the occasional celebrity book, but I have yet to work on one. There have been few brief encounters. Nick Offerman has come by our office to work with his editor. John Hodgman gathered a sizeable group of his (well-known) friend to shoot a scene for his book trailer at the office once. If you watch the trailer here http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/4cc168ca62/that-is-all it’s the scene in the conference room. I also worked on It Gets Better and American Savage with Dan Savage, who is so lovely and down to earth that I sometimes forget he’s a celebrity.

CIR: Did you always know that you wanted to be in the publishing business, an editor?

JR: I think by senior year of college I realized that I wanted to pursue a job in book publishing. I was lucky enough to attend the Columbia Publishing Course, which not only led directly to my job at Dutton, but also helped me to decide that becoming an editor would be the best fit for me. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to work with an author through the entire process, from acquisition to well after his/her book hits stores and online retailers.

CIR: Because we strive to be unique, I must ask a bizarre question. How do you think Charles Dickens would have felt about E publishing?

JR: Well, Dickens was a prolific writer whose novels were mostly published in monthly or weekly installments, a format that allowed him to evaluate his audience’s reaction and use that feedback to shape his stories. Serializing his novels also made them cheaper and more accessible, so my guess is that Dickens would have loved the greater flexibility and access digital publishing affords to readers.

CIR: I have to ask this one because many friends and I have experienced it a couple of times. If an editor had very encouraging things to say about a manuscript, but rejected it stating that it would be better as a…we’ll say a YA, or any number of other succinct suggestions…and the author revamps it as such, do you think the writer is out of bounds to try a resubmission?

JR: It’s a good question. I think if an editor feels strongly enough about a manuscript to provide very encouraging and specific feedback before ultimately rejecting it, then it’s fair game to resubmit the manuscript if it’s been substantially reworded. There’s always an exception to the rule, of course, but in general editors are looking to fall in love with a project and champion it. As long as you’re not submitting a newly revised YA novel to Dutton—where we only do adult books—chances are the editor will take another look!

Thanks Jessica!

We look forward to seeing you at the Gold!

Interview conducted by Gusto Dave

RMFW Spotlight on Susan Brooks, Colorado Gold Conference Chair

Susan BrooksSusan Brooks has been conference chair since 2011.  She is Editor-in-Chief of YA and Children’s Divisions of a traditional publisher and has an MA in Publishing from George Washington University.

Registration for the Colorado Gold Conference opened on May 1st. The conference is scheduled for September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster, Colorado.

1. Susan, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I am the current conference chair, which means that I organize Colorado Gold. RMFW is such a wonderful organization and I love the mission of helping people learn. My biggest goal as conference chair is that each conference is better than the last one.

I initially got involved with RMFW in 2008. I had taken a long break from writing and after some life changes I wanted to write again. I knew I needed a critique group because I hadn’t written in such a long time. I searched online and found RMFW. I learned about the free monthly programs and I went to a few those. I met wonderful people at each event. One of them asked if I wanted to volunteer and do hospitality for the monthly workshops. I agreed, and once I started doing hospitality, it was a slippery slope. Pamela Nowak reeled me in to replace her as conference chair in 2011.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My current WIP is a paranormal romance and I am working on my second draft. I have been published for other writings, but no novels as of yet. I blog at http://susanbrooks.wordpress.com/ and I occasionally tweet as @oosuzieq.

3. We’ve all heard of bucket lists — you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish– what’s one of yours?

I really love helping other people solve problems, especially with stories. I think it is hard for us as writers to see our own plot or character problems. We all need another set of eyes to see what we are blind to. That is why I like editing so much. I really want everyone to be successful and am sometimes surprised by really good stories that get rejected. So one of the bucket list projects is to start a traditional publishing company. I want to publish stories that I really like!

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what’s yours?

My Achilles heel is that I am a pantser by nature. I love the creative process of just sitting down to write something and exploring my characters, and finding out what happens with them on the page. It suits my recursive brain to write this way. When one of my characters says something I didn’t anticipate for example, I love being surprised by that. But, the problem with being a pantser, and an ADD pantser whose brain naturally runs in tangents, is that I have spent a great amount of time writing pages of my particular story that do not actually have anything to do with my intended plot. These tangents are fun, but they don’t get me to the end. And when you have ADD it is most important to be focused.

Over the years I have learned that I must create an outline so that I can get to the end. I don’t outline every detail and I am still happily surprised by some things that happen on the page, but I know what has to happen in the chapter I am working on so that I can get to the next chapter, and get to the end. This means I have become a plotter by necessity. I absolutely must have the structure. It’s funny because I have set up a rather intensive structure in other areas of my life, such as project management tasks for the conference. It just took me a while to figure out that I needed structure for my writing too.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I love the element of discovery. I love when I am writing, based upon my outlines now, and something happens on the page that I did not intend. It’s magical and surprising and it excites me and sometimes frustrates me because I have to revise my outline to make it work. Sometimes I can’t make it work and I have to edit it out. But, discovering that creative spark is my favorite thing. The rest of the process is not my favorite. It is work and I have to settle down and focus in order to do it.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

I would definitely talk myself into outlining from the start. The thing about the outline is that you can change it if something magical happens on the page which you didn’t intend. Just tweak the outline so that everything gets resolved. With an outline you still know what you need to write in the next chapter which is imperative to move forward as a writer. Outline, little Suzie! Outline.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

Well, I have two desks actually. And I write at both of them. I also write at the kitchen table, and at the coffee table in the living room. I write with a lap desk on the chaise lounge with the cat, and occasionally in a coffee shop or a bar. I don’t have one particular place, which is probably an ADD thing. I aspire to have a regular place, and a regular writing time, and a regular routine, but I don’t. Over the years I have just come to accept this about myself.

The most important thing is not the location, but my ability to focus. I actually found an audio recording that induces brain wave patterns for focus and that has been the most helpful. The recording is saved on my laptop so I just plug in the headphones and go to work in whatever places seems best at the time. The recording is that item that I must have. Otherwise, every little thing distracts me, from shiny objects to birds flying by. I also use the audio recording when editing, or working on conference tasks or doing other things that require more than 20 seconds in a row.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

This is a funny question for me to answer. As I mentioned earlier, I am a tiny bit ADD. And part of my reading process is that I read multiple books at a time. It tends to take me awhile to get through them all, but I always remember where I left off and I don’t get the storylines confused. I don’t know how that works, but it is how I read. I am reading several books to learn new things, like Google Analytics, but I won’t list those here because they are boring and not at all fun.

At this moment, I am re-reading Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. She is one of my favorite authors and has a new book coming out in this summer. I wanted to re-read the series from the beginning because it has been so long since I read them. I am also reading Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. This is a series that I haven’t read since…I can’t remember when, She does some interesting things with character development. The main character is Saint Germain, a heroic vampire.

I am also reading The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazney. Zelazny is wonderfully creative with plot, and again, this is something I read long ago and wanted to read again. I am reading Bruce Lipton’s Biology of Belief. Lipton is a rogue cellular biologist. Science interests me, though it definitely is not my forte. I am also reading a few different books on mythology, which are perpetually in the book stack just because I love the topic. None of these books mentioned were in my “angst pile” which is that stack of books that I want to read but haven’t yet. Reading all the books in the angst pile might need to be listed above as a bucket list item!