Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Turn One-Two-Three into Publish Me

“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.”
Progress report
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.
Twitter: @heathermoconnor

Friday, November 4, 2011

No Ask, No Answer

If you met me while planning our fourth OWC in five years, you might wonder if I was always such an outgoing, promotional creature. It’s been a long journey from the university student who shook so badly that she couldn’t get through a presentation to where I am today. And, you know, that conference tagline—word by word—has special meaning for me.

First, I told my “back-then” self to slow down. To take overwhelming situations, one word, one sentence, one interaction at a time. Slowing down actually gave my mind the chance to catch up. And you know when you get nervous, your brain rattles and races? Mine did, too.

Once I got my pacing right, I could relax. My calmer self could actually enjoy speaking to a gathering or asking for a favour. Before I knew it, I was drafted into a volunteer organization. Fine, I thought. I’ll just camp out here at the bottom of the totem pole. This was not to be. I inched my way up to the position that booked talent. Yes, I asked people for their time. And they often said yes. Imagine! People wanted to play along if the event looked like fun. They wanted to give back to the community. This I learned; then I learned to use it.

On the very first OWC committee, I booked speakers and instructors and panelists. Huzzah! I had nothing to fear. If the candidates couldn’t come out to play, there was always the next time. But most often, they agreed. Success after success and now I’ll ask anyone for practically anything.

Inviting authors, editors, publishing professionals and agents to the greatest conference in the known universe is easy. Each year, I rise to the challenge of bettering myself with the program that I put together. You simply won’t believe who we’ve got this year.  

Man, next step: ask for money!

Barb E. Hunt
President/2012 Co-Chair & Program Co-ordinator
                                                                       word by word