Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Category: conferences

A new Denver Conference Shines the Light on Diverse Voices

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. 


Writer Conference Pitch Pro Tips

It’s springtime! That means the Writer Conference season is upon us. And you know what that means, pitch appoints with agents and editors.

I do think yoga breathing exercises are essential to do pre-pitch so you might want to brush up with some practice before you go.

And just in case you’d like a few more tips to help you through, I put together my quick and dirty list:

1. For a 10-minute pitch appointment, plan to spend about 2 minutes talking about your book and 8 minutes interacting with the agent.

2. Nail your pitch in two succinct sentences. Three at most. If you can’t do that, you’ll be in trouble during your pitch.

3. Include one thing about yourself that will make you memorable (but in a good way, LOL). Maybe you have an interesting job that plays a factor in what you write. A funny conference story that is safe to share. A hobby passion that is interesting.

4.. Be prepared to talk about what inspired you. What made you excited to write this book?

5. Come intending to pitch only one book. If, however, the agent asks what else you’ve written or what you’re working on, be prepared to answer that question.

6. Know that this pitch appointment is not a make or break it moment. Not for you as a writer, not for your career, and not for your book; it all comes down to the quality of your writing.

The pitch is simply one stepping stone to getting you read. And if it doesn’t go well, plenty of opportunities to simply query agents the old-fashion way through email. Plenty of authors landed their agent doing just that.

Last but not least, smile and breathe. Most agents and editors are lovely people and they want you to succeed in the pitch appointment.

Scout’s honor!

Pic Credit: Dan Govan


Polarization of Authors?

NINC is a terrific conference that caters to authors who are already multi-published. After attending last week, it’s clear to me that this conference is leaning more and more toward supporting authors who are exploring the indie-publishing route.

There was a decidedly anti-traditional-publisher sentiment in a lot of the panels that I both participated in and attended. This is not a commentary on the conference, by the way. It’s merely my observation. I think a lot of attendees would probably agree with my assessment.

But this is what worries me. I sense a widening division between authors who traditionally publish and authors who self-publish. And there’s no need for that. This is not an either/or question, nor is there only one right path to publication. (By the way, for what it’s worth, editors from “traditional” publishers much prefer the term “commercial” publisher.)

The conference vibe seemed to rest on a few assumptions:

1) That authors who stay with traditional publishers are stupid for doing so (not necessarily true) and that they can’t make a living/career by solely writing while partnering with a commercial publisher. (Also not necessarily true as plenty of traditionally published authors make high 6 or 7-figure incomes and enjoy the marketing campaigns their publishers invest in them.)

2) That indie publishing is the only route for an author who wants to be in control of his/her career (not necessarily true, as agents negotiate a lot of things in contracts).

3) That indie publishing is the only way to make good money or a living by writing (also not necessarily true, as some indies make really good money and others are not seeing as much financial reward).

It’s a disservice to the industry in general and to the conscious choices an individual author would like to make about his/her career by thinking in these kinds of divisive absolutes. Plenty of good reasons exist to choose one path or the other (or a combo of both).

Writers, in the end, there is only one right path–the path that is actually right for you and your career. And when you gather the data, weigh the pros and cons, and make a conscientious decision about what you’d like to explore, you are actually thinking like an agent. As that is what we do every day for each individual client at our agency.


Worth The Conference Registration Cost

Last month I gave a webinar on how Digital is rapidly transforming publishing.

I love giving this workshop at conferences every chance I get because most writers are completely confused by the stories that are making today’s headlines and how that impacts writers. It’s my chance to really explain all that is going on.

Attendees always walk away telling me that my workshop alone was worth their conference registration cost. (Of course they could just be humoring me…) LOL

Still, it makes me happy. I always want aspiring writers to be informed as much as possible.

We are doing something unique this month and making the recording available for streaming.


2012 San Diego Comic Con – Part III

STATUS: Loved seeing so many NLA clients represented there!

Kristen Callihan’s sequel to FIRELIGHT!


The hilarious moment when we realized that Emily from the Penguin group looked exactly like the model on Sara’s client Michael Underwood’s Geekomancy cover!



And Friends Don’t Let Friends date vampires!! Lots of buzz in the HarperCollins booth for Sarah Rees Brennan!




2012 San Diego Comic Con – Part III

STATUS: The best part of comic con!
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? nothing as I’m heading out. 

Getting into the Firefly panel!
And standing under the 50 foot Hall banner for Marie Lu’s Legend! (Yes, I’m the tiny figure under it.)


2012 San Diego Comic Con – Part II

STATUS: Heading out the door in 15 minutes. I’m doing the interview for Spotlight on Gail Carriger!
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SOMEONE LIKE YOU by Adele
Gail Carriger and I –washed in color at the Hilton Bayfront. 
Sara’s client Jason Hough and his Del Rey Editor Michael Braff
Gail right after her Witty Women in Steampunk panel. 

2012 San Diego Comic con

STATUS: Love reliable internet access! It’s been a little spotty from the floor.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? VERTIGO by U2

Finally getting a chance to upload some pics!

Shot of show floor from above and the Walking Dead booth!


Writing Craft: Breaking The Rule: Show Don’t Tell

STATUS: What is up with over 100 degree days in Denver in June? We live here because summer tends to be awesome. We could be confused with Phoenix this week.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? NOVEMBER by Ben Williams

A week ago I attended Denver Lighthouse Writer’s Litfest where I gave my Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop to over 50 hearty souls–which convinces me yet again that writers are gluttons for punishment.

As I was giving the workshop, inspiration hit for a couple of blog posts I could do on writing craft that I think my blog readers would understand and find helpful.

So guess what I’m going to do this week if I can find 30 minutes of time to get one posted?

Writers are often given writing “rules” that woe be you if you break them. And for most cases, because beginning writers have not mastered craft yet, these rules hold true. But if a writer knows what he or she is doing, breaking the rule can often create something really unusual that will work and be amazing (but will have a lot of aspiring writers crying foul that so-and-so writer does it and gets away with it.)

For example, how often have you heard that as a writer, you should show and not tell? Too many times to count I imagine.

Do you want to know one NLA writer who breaks this rule all the time at the beginning of her novels? Sherry Thomas. Sherry has won the Rita Award twice in a row now (the romance genre’s highest honor) and her debut novel PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS was named one of Publisher’s Weekly best books of the year in 2008.

So obviously somebody agrees that she has mastered craft and Sherry always begins her novels with a lot of exposition–usually a big no-no. But for her voice, it just works. Just last month, Sherry released her latest historic romance entitled BEGUILING THE BEAUTY which John Charles said in the Booklist review: “Thomas distills superbly nuanced characters and flawlessly re-created settings worthy of a Merchant and Ivory into a gracefully witty and potently passionate love story that sets a new gold standard for historical romances.”

And, if you check out the beginning of her novels, it’s all exposition. BEGUILING begins with the following:

It happened one sunlit day in the summer of 1886.
Until then, Christian de Montfort, the young Duke of Lexington, had led a charmed life. 
His passion was the natural world.  As a child, he was never happier than when he could watch hatchling birds peck through their delicate eggshells, or spend hours observing the turtles and the water striders that populated the family trout stream.  He kept caterpillars in terrariums to discover the outcomes of their metamorphoses—brilliant butterflies or humble moths, both thrilling him equally.  Come summer, when he was taken to the seashore, he immersed himself in the tide pools, and understood instinctively that he was witnessing a fierce struggle for survival without losing his sense of wonder at the beauty and intricacy of life. 
After he learned to ride, he disappeared regularly into the countryside surrounding his imposing home.  Algernon House, the Lexington seat, occupied a corner of the Peak District.  Upon the faces of its chert and limestone escarpments, Christian, a groom in tow, hunted for fossils of gastropods and mollusks. 
He did run into opposition from time to time.  His father, for one, did not approve of his scientific interests. But Christian was born with an innate assurance that took most men decades to develop, if at all.  When the old duke thundered over his inelegant use of time, Christian coolly demanded whether he ought to practice his father’s favorite occupation at the same age, chasing maids around the manor. 

This goes on for three pages. It’s backstory. Something writers are admonished to never do. But with her skill and voice, it works.

So keep that in mind. If you can pull it off, a rule is worth breaking. The trick is knowing whether you’ve truly pulled it off! From most of what I’ve seen in the slush pile, the answer is no, the writer hasn’t nailed it.


Why 50 Shades of Grey Makes Agent Lives Harder

STATUS: The appointment schedule is firming up! Get ready for some posts on what editors will be looking for in 2012.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

It’s pretty simple. We agents go to conferences and really drive home the fact that writers need to master their craft. Wow us with masterfully written opening pages. Stop butchering the English language.

Then a work comes along and blows that advice out of the water.

Readers have called 50 Shades of Grey any number of things: campy, fun, spirited, hilarious, worth the money, a fast read.

But well written has not been one of them.

So what do we say when a novel inexplicably becomes wildly popular, sells like crazy, and part of the cultural lexicon?

You got me. Maybe I can say this is a one-in-a-million happenstance of all stars aligning.

But I can say it does make our jobs harder. There will be any number of writers who will be convinced they can do same. Gosh I hope my query inbox doesn’t become inundated. No matter what 50 Shades is, I would not have been the agent to spot its “genius.”

Plain and simple.


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