Pub Rants

Category: workshops

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. 

Authors, Do You Know Where Your Money Is?

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

Every six months, you get an envelope from your agent. You tear it open, take out the enclosed check and royalty statement, and glance at the numbers on both. You shrug and mutter, “Guess that looks about right.” Then you toss the statement on your to-be-filed pile at the back of your closet, endorse the check, and head to the bank.

Sound familiar?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many published authors I’ve talked to at conferences who don’t give their royalty statements much of a glance. Why? Because they don’t know what they’re looking at. “Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an accountant,” they say (or something along those lines). “Besides, isn’t that what I pay my agent to manage for me?”

News flash! Like you, many agents consider themselves word people—not numbers people—and your royalty statements are just as baffling to them as they are to you.

This means that the buck, quite literally, stops with you. Have a conversation with your agent about the level of support he or she is providing when it comes to combing through your statements and making sure you’re getting paid everything you’re owed.

More importantly, educate yourself. Learn how to audit your own statements.

Every year, we at Nelson Literary Agency recover thousands—sometimes tens of thousands—of unpaid dollars on behalf of our clients, simply because we audit their royalty statements.

Does this mean that publishers are nefarious, knowingly cheating authors out of a few bucks here and there to improve their own bottom lines? In our experience, no. (In fact, not all errors we find are made in the publisher’s favor!) Every error we’ve called to a publisher’s attention has immediately resulted in the issuing of a corrected statement and, when called for, a check covering the difference.

Without naming names, here are some examples of errors we’ve recently found on our clients’ royalty statements:

1. Unpaid royalties of approximately $5,000 because the publisher had applied a $10,000 advance against the author’s earnings when the actual contracted and paid advance had been only $5,000. This means the author had actually earned out—though the statement said otherwise—and was now owed nearly $5,000 in earned royalties.

2. Unpaid royalties of approximately $4,200 because the publisher’s accounting department missed the fact the author’s contract contained a royalties escalator. What’s that? A royalties escalator increases the author’s royalty rate in steps, based on units sold. For instance, a contract might specify that the author will earn 10% for the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, and 15% for all copies sold thereafter. In this case, the author had sold about 12,500 copies of a hardcover edition priced at $16.99, but she had earned only 10% for all of those copies. Not one, but two escalators had been missed.

3. Unpaid royalties of approximately $7,300 because the publisher sold nearly 6,500 copies of a $17.99 hardcover edition at “high discount,” even though Agent Kristin had ensured that the author’s contract limited the number of copies the publisher was allowed to sell at high discount. What does that mean? When publishers sell copies of your book at higher-than-usual discounts, it’s common that the author’s contract will specify that she will earn “one-half the prevailing royalty rate” on those copies. Because Agent Kristin had limited the publisher’s high-discount sales, this author should have earned 12.5% on those particular 6,500 copies, but she earned only 6.25%, and we were able to recover the difference. (By the way, does your agent understand this and negotiate your contract’s high-discount clause in your favor?)

Dear Authors, the only way to protect your assets is to do the math. Join me July 30, from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, for my Royalty Statements Auditing Workshop, a live webinar sponsored by Nelson Literary Agency. Hope to see you then!

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.

In October, NLA implemented a new feature–a special News Alert eMail blast for subscribers of our newsletter. Today, a blast went out informing readers of how Harpercollins subscription service with Scribd will work and how authors will get paid.

Because my time is so limited these days (sadly!), regular or daily blog posts that alert readers about changes to publishing contracts and how that impacts authors just isn’t possible for me. But I am still doing great posts 2 or 3 times a months. Those columns can be found in NLA’s Monthly newsletter for our subscribers.

If you’ve been suffering from Pub Rants withdrawal, that would be the place to go to get your fix. Our eNewsletter is free. Just click on the Newsletter button at the bottom of our web page to sign up.

And for those of you who weren’t subscribers yet and missed that blast,  here’s the link to where you can see the news.

By the way, this is exactly the type of content I plan to tackle in tonight’s webinar:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

THE NITTY GRITTY – HOW DIGITAL IS TRANSFORMING THE PUBLISHING LANDSCAPE.

There’s still time to register.

My fabulous webinar on how to craft the perfect pitch paragraph for your query letter is tonight, Sept. 18, 2013  at 6:00 p.m. Mountain time. There is still time to register if you want to come join the fun. 

As part of the webinar registration, I had attendees submit their one sentence tag line and then I read through them all. What was immediately clear is that a lot of folks who are attending used the tag as a mini-summary of the story.

That’s not the purpose! A tag line should be one sentence about the inciting incident (or plot catalyst) that starts your novel moving forward–and without it, you wouldn’t have a story to tell.

So that is just one thing I’m going to be teaching folks how to do tonight. Nail that one sentence tag line about your manuscript!

Agent Reads The Slush Pile Tomorrow – Wednesday, July 25

STATUS: Have to leave a tad early today. My plan is to read a good portion of a client manuscript this evening.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  LAID by James

At conferences, the biggest complaint I hear from aspiring writers is this: there is never any feedback given when an agent or an editor sends a rejection letter.

Or, if there is a response, it tends to be generic–something along the lines of “I just didn’t fall in love with the story.”

Writers don’t have a good sense of what is really causing an agent to stop reading.

Well, this webinar is designed to answer that question. It’s a no holds barred (and a tough workshop so be warned) but if you want an honest, straightforward, and helpful response as to why your sample pages might be getting rejected, then this is it.

This is a “fly on the wall” glimpse of an agent reading her slush pile.

I read the first opening 2-pages submitted by the participants of the workshop. If I would have stopped reading, I stop and clearly say why. In general, we tackle about 20 entries selected at random. 

The I crush the writer’s fragile ego under my critique hammer… Just kidding. This is not American Idol style.

I don’t pull the punch but I do try and be sensitive and helpful. This webinar is not about denigrating the writer but it’s also not for the faint of heart.

If you think you are ready, then you might want to consider it. Register here. And I’ll see you tomorrow.

A Quick Look At Tag lines

STATUS: Come on rain! Don’t just be cloudy and not give it up. Pour gosh darn it!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PUMP IT UP by Elvis Costello

I’m getting ready for tonight’s workshop so I’m reviewing all the tag lines submitted by the workshop attendees. I asked all participants to submit one sentence as a baseline. So we can do a before and after during the workshop–which is often fun to see.

In other words, I don’t expect everyone to have nailed that tag line. It’s often hard to nail your plot catalyst in one sentence–especially if you’ve never really done it before. Hence the workshop.

But in reading them in prep, I can give my blog readers a bit of insight into what I think these attendees are struggling with. In the workshop, I’m going to clearly explain how to nail a plot catalyst tag line and then how to build your query pitch around that–using three different approaches.

Problem 1: The writer is trying to summarize the novel in the tag line.

Wrong use for it. You just want to nail your plot catalyst. But great, we’ll talk about it tonight.

Problem 2: The writer is relying on reader’s previous knowledge of a story or fairytale.

Not a bad starting point but it’s not going to be quite enough to carry the cornerstone of your pitch. Will work on that tonight.

Problem 3: The writer highlights two necessary elements of the story but alas, in the tag line, they don’t have a relation or a cause and effect so mentioning both doesn’t quite make sense.

In other words, one doesn’t necessitate the other. I’ll just need to point that out and I think this writer will get it.

And there’s still time to sign up if you want to join us! Just click here. I’ll be getting the tag lines soon for any day registers. However, we are going to close the class in an hour or two so if you want to join in, don’t delay.

Writing Craft: Mechanics Vs Spark

STATUS: Everything is literally on fire around the city of Denver. From Colorado Springs and Monument to Boulder to Fort Collins. I was so happy to see the rain this afternoon. Sadly it only lasted 20 minutes. We need more rain.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WINDOWS ARE ROLLED DOWN by Amos Lee

When I’m doing the Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop, the toughest moment is when the volunteer reads an entry that is completely sound. In the reading, there is no problem that I can point to and say, “here, this is the issue” or “this is not working.” On a mechanical level, there is nothing wrong with the opening pages.

The form is acceptable, the grammar is fine, the writing is solid. I can even identify that the writer understands the tenets of craft. By all the “rules” of writing and publishing, I should be glowing about this entry.

But something is missing.

And I have no other word for the “what” that is missing except to say the work is lacking narrative “spark.”

In other words, the writing is missing a distinctive voice.

And when that happens, what can you say during the workshop? That I don’t love it? Well, that’s not accurate either because when something is missing “spark” it’s probably not just a Kristin subjective thing. Listeners sense it too. I can tell by watching the workshop audience. When something lacks spark, it loses people’s attention. They start to shift in their seats or stretch or focus on something else.  It’s not just me that notices the absence.

On the other hand, when a work has that elusive spark, I know it, because the workshop audience becomes completely still and enrapt in the reading. Their attention is glued to the reader so as not to miss the next sentence. It’s a palpable change in the atmosphere of the room.

Sadly I can’t give an example because none of my authors have this problem. I’d have to grab something from the slush pile and I certainly couldn’t post it here without permission.

And speaking of getting read, it all begins with the perfect pitch paragraph in your query letter. Pub Rants University is hosting Goodbye Slush Pile: How To Write The Perfect Query Letter Pitch Paragraph for your Novel tomorrow night, Thursday, June 28 from 6 to 8 pm Mountain time. Given by yours truly.

I can’t tell you the number of emails I’ve received over the years from participants who have attended, revamped their query pitches, and then landed an agent and went on to sell. Dozens and dozens. In fact, one person even came up to me during the Litfest closing party the week before last to thank me.

You won’t want to miss it!

Because You’ve Asked For It….

STATUS: Another Gorgeous day! Repeat yesterday’s status.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LADY IN RED by Chris de Burgh

Or maybe you didn’t but are a glutton for punishment anyway. I’m doing my very popular Agent Reads The Slush Pile as an online Webinar coming up on May 2, 2012 6-8 pm MST.

If you can’t make it to Denver for the LitFest version of this webinar put on by Lighthouse Writers (where the price is not to be believed but the travel to get there might be rough!), here’s your chance to finally experience it for yourself.

Have you ever wondered how an agent reads the fiction submission slush pile? What an agent is thinking during the first opening pages? What makes an agent stop and what makes an agent read on? 
If you have ever wished to be a fly on the wall during that process, this workshop is your chance to get the inside scoop without metamorphosing. 

Literary Agent Kristin Nelson will read the first 2 pages of any submission, the “slush pile”, and give honest feedback as to why she would or would not read on for the sample pages in front of her.

 A couple of things before you click on that button:

1) This webinar is not for the faint of heart. It’s brutal. Now trust me, I will be as helpful and honest as possible. This is not to ridicule writers.  But don’t kid yourself, it will be tough. If you are feeling fragile or that feedback might crush your writer dream, now is not the time for this workshop. If you are tough as nails, just about to submit, want an immediate honest response, then this might be worth doing.

2) It needs to be the actual, opening first 2 pages of your manuscript. If you have a prologue, skip it and grab page 1 and 2 from your chapter one.

3) We can’t promise to read every single entry but we are definitely going to try. If I only have a few left over, I’ll respond on the sample pages and we can send to those writers privately. Right now, I know we can get through them all.

4) You can “audit” the class. Sign up to be there and listen in but you don’t send on the 2 pages. This is for those who are curious about it but not ready to have sample pages read.

If you’ve ever wondered how an agent could make a decision so fast on whether to read on or not or to ask for pages, this webinar will definitely answer that question!

How Do You Know If An Agent Is A Good Agent?

STATUS: Today I crushed many a sensitive soul during my crafting your query pitch workshop. Just kidding. They all said it was great and learned a lot. I’ll take them at their word.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LET’S GET IT ON by Marvin Gaye

This evening, a writer sat down next to me and asked if I knew XYZ agent and what I thought of her. I actually didn’t recognize the agent’s name and so I couldn’t help her by sharing an opinion. Certainly I know a lot of agents in the biz but it’s simply not possible to know ALL the agents practicing out there–especially a lot of the newer agents who are just starting out.

She then wanted to know how she could tell whether an agent is a good agent.

This is definitely a question that has been tackled on Absolute Write and Backspace.org and any search could probably bring up hundreds of forum posts regarding it.

For me, it’s simple. What is an agent’s track record of sales? If solid, then it’s probably just going to be a matter of whether you also connect with the agent as a person. By the way, whether an agent with a good track record is a good fit for you as an author is actually a whole different question than whether an agent is a good agent. One agent might be fantastic for one kind of client and disaster for another client who has different needs.

If the agent is new, how new? Are they with an established agency or agent with a good history of sales so the newbie has a mentor for questions? If an agency is brand new, did the agent work for an established firm before going out solo (so even though the sales record might be small at the moment, it’s understood that the agent comes with a solid background in the field).

Trust your common sense and what your gut tells you. Make sure you’re not wearing blinders when it comes to your publishing dream. The idea that any agent is better than no agent is most often not true.