“What did she say to you?”
My friend, Kevin Craig, spotted me leaving a blue pencil session with literary agent Carolyn Forde at the 2010 Ontario Writers’ Conference. Not sure what clued him in. Could it have been the dazed grin on my face? My feet barely grazing the ground? I think he noticed hope blooming.
Converting hope into action
I’d just shared a synopsis and the first four pages of my manuscript with Carolyn, then nibbled my fingernails while she read them. She made thoughtful, detailed, constructive comments that pointed out my writing’s literary strengths. She suggested steps to make me more attractive to agents and publishers. And, bless her heart, she set me at ease.
Those ten minutes made a big difference in this writer’s life. I took her advice to heart and built my literary game plan around it. And then I followed the plan.
1. Finish the novel—and make it good to the last drop
When Carolyn learned the manuscript wasn’t complete yet, she told me, “Write the whole thing and give each chapter as much attention as you’ve given these pages. You often get only one chance, so go in as strong as you can—don’t rush.”
2. Get published in fiction markets
My magazine credits would only get me so far in the fiction world. Carolyn suggested getting a short story or a stand-alone chapter from the novel published in a reputable literary journal. Contests were another great way to get noticed, she said.
3. Go for a grant
“You need little things in your bio to make [editors and agents] go ‘Hmm.’ Get a grant,” she said. “Then you’ll really have an agent’s attention.”
When I told her I was applying for an Ontario Arts Council Works in Progress grant, she encouraged me to go for it.
“You have publishing credits. You might be able to get it. That would open a lot of doors for you.”
I’ve spent the past year and a half chasing goals and following advice. Thanks to Writescape, I’ve attended plenty of retreats, courses and workshops. I’ve also gone to more conferences, like last year’s OWC. These events have provided first-class coaching and writing time. While my manuscript isn’t complete yet, I’m proud of the solid progress I’ve made.
I entered a local short story contest recently and won first place. Prestigious literary journals? They haven’t agreed to publish me yet, but I’m working on it.
Best of all, I received a Works in Progress grant. Not the first time I applied, but my persistence paid off. For the next several months, writing fiction is my job—and my joy.
When my novel is complete and polished and ready to pitch, I know just who to contact—Carolyn Forde of Westwood Creative Artists. Because she asked me to.
Freelance journalist and author Heather M. O’Connor loves the magic of words. In October, she received an Ontario Arts Council Works in Progress grant. All of a sudden, Abracadabra!—she’s off on a one-year sabbatical to complete her YA fantasy novel. After that, the magic really begins.