Pub Rants

Category: QandA

It’s rare to have a guest interview here at Pub Rants. I am delighted to welcome Viniyanka Prasad to the blog. I’ve known her for years. She has something awesome cookin’ here in the Mile-Hi city, so I’m shining the spotlight on her and The Word, a nonprofit Denver-based writing sanctuary for diverse voices. This terrific organization launched in 2016 and their first programs became available in 2017, and now Viniyanka is launching a new conference called [margins.] this summer. This is a welcome addition to the Denver scene, so welcome, Viniyanka!

You are the founder and executive director of The Word. Tell us when the organization launched and what is your missiYou are the founder and executive director of The Word. Tell us about your mission.

Hello and thank you so much having me to share more about The Word! In a whirlwind few years, we’ve had the privilege to offer dozens of workshops, mentorships, submissions opportunities, and reader events.

We fight for equity and celebrate storytelling from marginalized communities. In the ideal literary world, there is equal access to resources that amplify stories and equal freedom to share with the creator’s own vision. 

You are launching a new conference called [margins.] in 2020. Tell us about this conference. What should readers know about how they can participate in various capacities?

The [margins.] conference (August 1-2) is a space for community and craft building that places writers from the margins at the center. We’ll be talking writing craft, publishing know-how, and literary activism. 

The strength of a space like [margins.] is in its ability to build lasting connection, even in our new 2020 virtual setting. So, it’s not just an array of pre-recorded sessions for consumption. 

We’re creating small group gatherings, one-on-one feedback opportunities, and community roundtables so that attendees will walk away with writing/publishing tools as well as a new family to look to for support. 

Our celebration is for everyone in a number of ways! We’ll be hosting a public virtual bookfair with readings and titles everyone will want to explore. We’re already hosting a series of discussions that are free and open to the public, so please join in throughout the next month!

We also invite potential presenters and publishers who would like to submit titles or presenters to reach out. Finally, everyone can be a part of supporting this vision during our Kickstarter which has just a short time left to meet our goal—that’s also a place to build community, for example with our virtual book club offering! More information can be found here, and our continually updated list of programs and speakers is here.

Why is it important to provide safe spaces for marginalized voices to be heard both by each other and by the world?

Writing from the margins often means explaining the need for your story to be told, the need for greater representation. It is an exhausting way to exist in literary spaces. When a wide range of writers from across marginalized backgrounds gather, everyone can show up as themselves—no majority within which you do not fit. And when we remove the need to explain why we are here, we get to actually do the things that brought us: find our strongest voices, brainstorm the best ways to represent our communities while sharing our truths, and learn how to navigate healthy writing careers.

Creating this space shows our communities, and everyone, what a literary world that embraces a variety of perspectives can be. The incomparable poet and activist Suzi Q. Smith, also [margins.] co-organizer, reminds us often that we have to imagine ourselves in the future we want before we can build the future that we need. With [margins.] we get to do one better: we get to make that future a micro-reality right now.

What would you like to tell agents who are looking for #ownvoices clients? What do agents need to learn most?

A very welcome question, and an agent who is asking this is asking the best one. To answer this thoroughly would probably require an entire conference itself, and certainly a range of voices other than mine (another project for us one of these days)! With hopes of being helpful here, I’ll focus on an important and core consideration: the agent’s questions about their own identity.

In any space where equity and inclusion are challenges, each of us brings our own vulnerabilities, which, yes, come with defenses. To be truly open to other perspectives, we need to clear out our own junk by acknowledging our own internal tapestries of challenges and privileges. It helps us trust in another person’s “unimaginable” experience without feeling that it erases what we each have lived. It helps us balance our gut connection with a humble openness to artforms that we haven’t been primed to understand.

To any agent whose first reaction is skepticism to that suggestion, I ask you a question: is it possible that your skepticism is a defense?

What are the greatest challenges facing writers from marginalized communities today?

I think it’s important to make room in our minds for the universe of interrelated complexities that contribute. From not seeing enough of ourselves in literature so that we internalize the idea that we do not belong, to not having the soft inroads that exist because of insularity that has been perpetuated over time, to the repeated experience of manuscripts reaching publishers who do not know what to do with them. I could go on, and that is why The Word has to engage readers, writers and the publishing industry with its work.

I think at the moment there is a real danger in the idea that publishing is progressing due to “diversity” trending. We’ve been here before; this is not the first time in publishing history with a push for diversity-focused acquisitions or hiring initiatives. We are repeating ourselves because victory was declared based on limited, short-term gains. 

I also believe that we are in a place of unique momentum. To harness that for lasting change, the literary world needs to shift from initiatives to a vision for sustained practice. We also need to continually be aware of the risks for tokenization along this path.

What is your greatest hope for the future of diversity and representation in storytelling and publishing?

Complete equity is the utopian goal we should always stubbornly demand, but I’ll also offer up an interim goal.

Right now, with so little representation, each book from a marginalized writer carries something close to all the hopes and pain for all the people who have ever felt unheard. One book should be that—one story thoughtfully and lovingly created. This weight stacked upon writers from the margins, to heal every hurt within their communities, is of course an impossible one. It will absolutely continue to limit which stories are shared. 

So, my hope is that we do more than just invite new storytellers to the table. My hope is that the literary community acknowledges the unhealed wounds caused by underrepresentation, a first step toward an effective balm. I hope we then see the old table as just that, and trust that there is something better to be built together. 

I think this can be the most debilitating mistake an aspiring writer can make. There be dragons if you start down this mental path.

I recently gave a talk to Regis University’s MFA in Creative Writing students. In the fifteen-minute Q&A, one participant asked why it was so hard to get a literary agent to even look at her project. I could hear the frustration in her voice. I didn’t have a ready reply because the truth is that there is no good answer.

Writing is personal business. And any response and/or rejection can definitely feel like a commentary on your talent and who you are as a person.

But here is the reason you need to start thinking like an agent and less like a writer when it comes to submitting your material. If someone passes on your work, that rejection is not a commentary on your qualities as a human being. In a lot of instances, it’s not even a commentary on your ability or talent as a writer!

Let me repeat that: A rejection is often not a commentary on your writing talent.

I can cite a bundle of different reasons why an agent or publisher may pass on your work, reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with your writing ability. Don’t believe me? Here are a few (and in no particular order):

  • The agent/publisher has seen two-dozen concepts just like that one in the last four weeks.
  • That concept trend was hot, so now the Publisher has bought too many similar projects for their list and will not be acquiring any more.
  • The agent has an aversion to that type of story. I know a well-respected literary agent who personally cannot handle any story in which a child is in danger, and so will pass on any submission containing such scenes.
  • The editor could not get support in-house from the sales/marketing team to acquire the novel.
  • An agent read the story and thought the writer was talented, but for whatever reason, just didn’t connect with it enough to offer representation.
  • Bad timing. The agent was on vacation or at a conference, or just back to the office, and is simply swamped. It’s hard to be excited about taking on someone new if you are buried in work that can’t be accomplished in a 40-hour work week. And, LOL, no good agent works only 40 hours. It’s more like 60+ a week.
  • There’s talent on the page, but the editor or agent might think a significant revision is necessary, and taking the hour to write up an editorial letter isn’t going to happen.
  • The novel just has an element the agent is never enthusiastic about. For example, some agents are never going to take on a fairy-tale retelling or superhero story. It’s just not his or her thing.

I could go on. There are so many reasons that when I spoke at Regis, the best advice I could offer is this: Do not use writing as a means of validating who you are as a person.

No matter what an industry person’s response is to your written work, your writing is only one facet of who you are as a human being. Don’t make it everything, or you may lose your joy of writing and find the whole business very depressing indeed.

Photo Credit: BK

(Just a note, this post is from our archives. Some references and links may be from past years.)

STATUS: Working though 245 emails in the inbox. You can’t hide from me!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  DON’T STOP by Foster The People

An yet, writers always have some confusion on what is the difference between a pitch and a query. Seems like a good topic to tackle (as I can already see a myriad list of sub-questions within this topic).

Let’s start with the basics.

A query is a professional business letter that introduces your work to an agent or editor. These days, this letter is sent by email rather than snail mail. In the query letter, you will have something called a pitch paragraph. The query letter will also contain an introduction and the author’s bio or credentials. It will be one-page long.

A pitch is the verbal delivery of the main pitch paragraph from your query letter. In other words, you need to have a quick way to sum up the opening plot catalyst of your novel in a sentence or two while talking to someone. That way your audience gets a clear and immediate gist of what your novel is about.

Here’s a great example from a novel I just sold by David Ramirez called MINCEMEAT. It’s a good example because in this instance, I actually did something unique. I pulled out the pitch from the main pitch paragraph. I don’t always do that but I did so in this instance. Also, when I was in New York in May, I verbally PITCHED this work to editors using the one sentence pitch highlighted in pink.

Here’s my submit letter to editors–which in essence is the agent’s QUERY letter to editors (to draw a comparison to what writers are doing when they approach agents):

Hello XXX,
It’s pretty rare that I send an email about a manuscript submission that I can sum up in a one sentence pitch. Trust me, I tend to be wordier than that!

But here it is:
All that is left of humanity is on a thousand-year journey to a new home aboard one ship, The Noah, and this ship is carrying a dangerous serial killer.

Intrigued? I hope so. At its heart, the concept for this SF novel MINCEMEAT by David Ramirez is quite simple but what unfolds is layer after layer of complexity.

Since most editors prefer I don’t leave it at one sentence, here’s a little bit more about the manuscript:

Priss Dempsey is a City Planning Administrator on the Noah, a vessel carrying the last survivors of Earth on a thousand-year journey to a new home.  She is equal parts psychic, economist, hacker and bureaucrat, a vital part of the mission, but her life seems to lose purpose after she experiences Breeding Duty.  Kept asleep through the impregnation and birthing that all women are obligated to undergo, she still feels a lost connection to the child she will never be permitted to know.

Policeman Leonard Barrens approaches her with a request for hacking support in the unofficial investigation of his mentor’s violent death. Only Barrens knows that a crime has been committed because he came across the mutilated remains before Information Security could cover it up. To everyone else, the missing man was merely “Retired,” nothing unusual.

Their investigation takes them through the lost dataspaces in the Nth Web and deep into the uninhabited regions of the ship, where they discover that the answer may not be as simple as a Mincemeat Killer after all. And what they do with that answer will determine the fate of all humanity.

May I send this novel your way?

All Best,
Kristin

Next up, I’ll tackle the log line versus the pitch.

 

Creative Commons Credit: AJ Cann

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 5: Are There Off-Limit Topics for YA & MG Novels?

STATUS: It’s Friday. Over and out!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU MAKE LOVING FUN by Jewel

In Episode 5, I tackle the #1 question when it comes to young adult and middle grade!

I’d say “enjoy” but technical difficulties are making it impossible to upload!

I’ll try again tomorrow. We might have Fridays With Kristin on Monday. LOL.

It’s really Saturdays with Kristin…. I think I finally got it to work.

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 4 -Talking Middle Grade

STATUS: Looking forward to Monday. Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a holiday in Publishing so it will be nice and quiet. No emails.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IN THE MOOD by Glenn Miller Orchestra

In Episode 4, I identify what I see as the three different age levels within middle grade and how those levels dictate the appropriate word count and page length for a middle grade work.

This is the first video I filmed in the evening. Boy does that make a difference in lighting! I also need to work on the appropriate length of time for transition stills. *grin*

It’s all a work in process.

Enjoy!

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 4 -Talking Middle Grade

STATUS: Looking forward to Monday. Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a holiday in Publishing so it will be nice and quiet. No emails.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IN THE MOOD by Glenn Miller Orchestra

In Episode 4, I identify what I see as the three different age levels within middle grade and how those levels dictate the appropriate word count and page length for a middle grade work.

This is the first video I filmed in the evening. Boy does that make a difference in lighting! I also need to work on the appropriate length of time for transition stills. *grin*

It’s all a work in process.

Enjoy!

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 3 – Why Page Length for YA or MG Novel Is The Wrong Question

STATUS: I had 180 emails in my inbox when I started the day. I have 189 emails in my inbox when I ended it. Hum… this is not progress.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? Nothing at the moment

Whenever I’m at a writer’s conference, a participant always asks, “how long should my middle grade or young adult novel be?” Well, that’s the wrong question. And my video entry today is to explain why and what is a better question writers should be asking.

Enjoy!

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 2 – The Difference Between Young Adult And Middle Grade

STATUS: We folks here in Denver like to take the Groundhog seriously. If he says 6 more weeks of winter, we say let’s kick it off with 2 feet of snow. Bring on the winter. I’m the only who made it in today. Of course I have an advantage. I walk to work.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WE ARE YOUNG by Fun.

Invariably when I’m at a writing conference, I always get asked this question. So last weekend, I sat down and organized my thoughts on what I believe to be the core difference between the two.

And today’s entry is simply the first in a couple of videos I’ve recorded on this topic. Enjoy!

Fridays With Agent Kristin: Episode 1 – How To Become A Literary Agent

STATUS: Through snow and more snow, the show must go on!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I FALL TO PIECES by Patsy Cline

Without further ado, I’m delighted to debut in 2012 a series of video blog rants called Fridays With Agent Kristin. And I hope you cut me some slack with this first one because let me tell you, this was hard to do.

Let me take that back. It was really easy to do a crappy video clip. To do a decent one took me an hour and 15 or 20 takes to nail a clip that was even remotely worth taking on to the editing stage.

I have a WHOLE new appreciation for anyone in the broadcasting arts. Seriously! You have to concentrate on pacing, breathing, every word, every pause, and oddly enough, every blink of the eyes.

If you blink normally during a video clip, you’ll look very strange in the finished product. Good thing I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started. If I did, it would have never left the idea stage.

So, welcome to Episode 1: How to Become A Literary Agent.

And if you’d like to suggest some topics for me to tackle in future episodes, that’s what the comment section is for. *grin*

Quick & Easy Answers

Status: Doing Client reading.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS THIS LOVE by Bob Marley

1) What happens if you can’t sell a book to a publisher?
If we have exhausted all possibilities, I’ll put aside and concentrate on the author’s next work. If the next sells, that always allows us to revisit the prior novel. Sometimes the decision is made to let the past be the past and simply move forward.

2) How do you know if a writer’s idea is a good one?
Not a clue really. All I know is what I like and what really resonates with me. I’ve had the good fortune of having what I like generally match up with what editors like and are willing to buy. Just like every other agent in the world, I’m not 100% right all the time. Sometimes I love a book and can’t sell it.

3) If Hollywood has bought the film rights, does the author get a share in the profit?
The sad news is that in general, the author does not get a share in the profit. Although all film deals will have the standard “5% of 100% of net,” most Hollywood films will never show a profit because of how studios manipulate the accounting. It’s worse than the mafia. So agents often build in a lot of ways for the author to make money on the film deal that aren’t tied to “profit” so loosely defined. The option price, the purchase price, bestseller bonuses, box office bonuses etc. These are payments that are not contingent on the film making money.

However, some authors do get a share in the profit. That is not a percentage based on net but a percentage based on a cashbreak point on gross.

A very different thing. Also, it is possible to put merchandizing in a separate pool with a separate percentage. Good money to potentially be made there as well.

4) Can you publish your book yourself or do you have to have a publisher?
Of course you can publish a book yourself! That’s not the right question though. Anyone can self publish; the question is distribution and how to get folks to read what you self publish.

5) How do you decide if the cover art is good?
I have to say that cover art is not my strength as an agent. I have no background in art and not much of a creative vision. However, I do know what I like and what I don’t like. If I don’t like it and neither does the author, I fight like crazy to get it changed.

6) Do publishers show animation for cover concepts?
No. But wouldn’t that be cool?

7) What happens if more than one publisher wants the book?
Then you have an auction my friend! As an author, it’s always the best place to be. However, I do think that writers have a misconception that all auctions equal big money. That is not necessarily true. You can have modest auctions that are in low five figures.