Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Get Publishing: At the Edge of Print

This past Friday (evening) and Saturday (day) I attended the Get Publishing: At the Edge of Print conference held at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. I haven’t attended any writing-related events since I left Seton Hill, and wouldn’t have known about this one if a friend who works at Grant MacEwan hadn’t passed on the link to the conference Website. I hummed and hawed over it--people who want to be writers can be weird/naive/pretentious, so I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go. That and I’m a typical writer who isn’t good at socializing with people I don’t know. Ultimately I had to acknowledge that of the dozen or so agents I’ve queried so far I haven’t so much as garnered a request for more material and I needed to do something to improve my chances.

The keynote speaker on Friday night was Andrew Steeves, one of the co-founders of Gaspereau Press (the folks who published The Sentamentalist). He spoke via videoconference (which worked quite well), and also gave us a tour of the Press facilities (pre-recorded and narrated live). Seeing the small-time printing and binding operation almost makes me want to move to Nova Scotia and try to get a job there. I think there would be something satisfying about producing books the way they do, everything in-house, done by hand, and manual with little high-tech gadgets. It wouldn’t be something you do to make big bucks to be sure, but something you do because you love books. From the hour-long presentation one remark in particular stuck in my mind. Mr. Steeves said that books are a little like IEDs—yes, improvised explosive devices. I might buy a book and read it, or read part of it, but it won’t strike my interest (there were a couple of those this year). I might leave it on the shelf for a while, but eventually I'll send it off to a second hand shop and someone else will pick it up. This might happen several times until someone finally picks that book up and, ‘bam’ it hits them. It strikes their imagination, helps them through a tough time in their life, etc. Books can lie and wait, until they meet the right reader and explodes (literally) in their hands.

Saturday morning started off by a Key Note talk by an interesting local author known as Minister Faust. He was a highly entertaining speaker who tried to get the audience thinking about e-publishing. Like many other writers, I hold a prejudice against self-publishing and e-publishing. I want to see my stories in the traditional print format on bookstore shelves produced by, if not a big-name publisher (I’m not completely starry-eyed about my writing prospects), at least by a traditional, paper publisher. Looking back, I realized that Minister Faust’s point was centralized around the issue of money. I’m well aware that even if I get a publishing contract, I’m going to have to keep working. Writers don’t make much unless they’re one of the handful of big names like JK Rowling or Steven King. With e-publishing; however, the cost of books is low (enticing people to buy more) and the writer gets a greater percentage of the royalties (since many of the traditional paper book processes are avoided such as printing, binding, shipping, etc). Definitely his presentation gave me some food for thought. I’m still think self publishing would be my last resort, but I can keep it in mind if I never manage to find Nora a home.

After this, the conference broke down into smaller, concurrent sessions. I selected sessions I thought most applicable/interesting and for the most part my choices turned out fairly well. Before lunch I sat in on ‘Writing in Perilous Realms: The Light Fantastic in Young Adult Fiction’ presented by local novelist (and U of A English professor) Thomas Wharton. To be honest, at first I was a little disappointed. Mr. Wharton primarily described how he came to realize he wrote fantasy, then described his novel, but in the end I thought the conversation was interesting enough. I realized listening that although I am an unpublished writer of fiction, I have a great deal more experience and knowledge of the publishing world than some people trying to break in. It seemed by some of the questions asked that people were trying to figure out the ‘formula to writing’ (what makes a good fantasy novel, how much dialogue should there be, etc). I thought that Mr. Wharton handled these questions well and gave thoughtful responses, which may have been comforting/helpful to the green writers in the room.

After lunch I attended ‘Tales from the Blogosphere: Passions, Politics and Profit,’ for what I think must be a fairly obvious reason--I blog (I know, you must all be shocked). This was a panel discussion from three individuals who blog for different reasons. The passion came from Kathryn Burke who runs a blog that provides resources for parents of children with learning disabilities. She was a dynamic and throught-provoking speaker who was clearly dedicated to maintaining the online connections she provides for her readers. Politics was Dave Cournoyer, a young blogger who comments on the political scene in Alberta. He told us a highly amusing story about how he purchased the rights to the web domain: edstelmach.ca and found himself at the centre of a political/media curffle over this in 2008. Consequently it also helped his blog readership to skyrocket. Finally the profit angle was provided by Jennifer Cockrall-King a freelance writer who uses her blog as a supplement to her upcoming book on urban agriculture.

This session made me wonder how I could better use my blog to promote myself as I primarily view this space simply as a ‘Web-log.’ I generally post once a week about something I’ve done in the last 7 days and rarely touch on writing. Should I change this? Should I focus on my writing endeavors? Perhaps. If I manage to sell one of my manuscripts I’ll have to, but for now, while I’m unpublished? What would I post about? The despair I feel every time I receive a rejection? My writing techniques (which have yet to prove successful)?

The final session I attended was another panel titled: Pop Culture Confidential. This featured Andrew Foley and Nat Jones who are both involved in the comic book business, a writer for Bioware, Karin Weekes, and Katherine Leighton--an ‘online spy’ as she called herself. Although I’m not considering a career in any of these fields (I must admit there is some alluring in the idea of being a writer for a gaming company--I’d have to do a lot more gaming than I do right now) I found the discussion fascinating. As was repeated over and over again, success in any of these fields requires hard work and dedication. Interesting, the discussion frequently circled back to the importance of networking, either via email or in face-to-face situations. Simple emails, stating an interest in the work a company/individual does can be more effective than flowery letters or oversharing the fact that you missed an entire week of work because you were so busy playing Mass Effect 2. Also, in this current digital age it’s important to be mindful of your online presence or reputation. Beware of what you post either it be comments in a forum, or those dreaded ‘wall of shame’ pictures on Facebook. These days, it all counts.

The very last event of the day as the 'pitch camp.' Each attendee had a fifteen minute opportunity to pitch to a editor/agent/writing professional. I lucked out and spoke to Cheryl Tardif, an acquisitions editor for Imajin Books. Unfortunately, I was hit with a case of the nerves, accompanied by verbal diarrhea. All day I ran over how I was going to pitch my manuscript in my head: 'My manuscript is about deaf sixteen year old Nora Watson who's greatest wish is to become a scientist so she can find a cure for the disease that killed her mother--and more than half of the adults in her world.' I think I got part of that out...the first part...I'm not sure sure. I definitely jumped around in my explanation of the plot, but I think I got all the important bits out. At this point, I just have to wait and see if anything happens.

Good old' wait and see. In the meantime I'll keep writing and editing.



No comments: