Friday, February 26, 2010

She had The Write Stuff: Kieryn Nicolas

This is the last in a series of interviews conference chair Kathryn Craft conducted with former conferees that made successful publishing connections at The Write Stuff conference.

Kathryn Craft: You met your publisher, Karen Syed, at The Write Stuff conference last year. Tell us how your pitch session went. Were you nervous? Any advice for people pitching for the first time this year?

Kieryn Nicolas: My pitch session went great. I was nervous, because I’d never done a story pitch before. The concept and structure was completely foreign. But Karen was extremely nice, and I felt comfortable, because I was talking about writing…my problem was the time limit, because I could talk about writing for hours! My advice is to relax, and be yourself. It’s not a bad idea to make a good impression with your personality, and not just your story!

KC: How did it feel to be offered a contract? I see this is for both eBook and print. How do you like the cover?

KN: So not to be spending my summer biting my nails, I tried to focus on other things after submitting my manuscript, like more writing. When I got the news I was chatting with my good friend, and I was so surprised I just said, “Whoa. I’m going to be published.” Then it hit me, and I started screaming.

I’m a big fan of the cover. I met my friend (the same one I was talking to when I got my contract) at our old middle school and we had a “photo shoot” where I took pictures of her to put on the promo cover. I later was discussing my favorite pictures and cover ideas with my cousin. He asked me to send them to him, and within a few hours he’d come up with the layout and effects of the cover picture. I loved it, and my publisher agreed, so it became the official cover!

KC: How did the editing process go? Tell us about your experience.

KN: I’d heard that the editing process was tough, and it hasn’t disappointed me. I’ve been through content and technical edits, and I could probably recite my story by now—or I’ve at least memorized how it looks. When my editor sent me back a version where she had made some edits, I was able to see where words had been switched around or punctuation interchanged without indicators! But even though it got tedious at times, I was glad to do it.

KC: As concerns the powering up of your PR machine--blog, website, social networking, etc.--did Echelon help you at all in its development? If not, how have you figured out what to do?

KN: Echelon definitely helped me out. I was given suggestions as to what to do—such as sites to join, facebooking, blogging, etc.—and there are always emails circulating from Echelon and Echelon authors with ideas and tips for PR. Other than that I’ve been spreading the word in person and scheduling author events.

A member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers GroupKieryn Nicolas, 15, resides in central Pennsylvania with her parents, younger sister, their lovable yellow lab, black cat, and ten hens. Kieryn was a competitive figure skater for nine years and is currently working hard to advance in taekwondo. She loves school and spending time with her close friends. She also loves to read, write, eat chocolate, and travel, with hopes of someday seeing Brisbane, Australia—a setting in her book—herself. Echelon Press released Rain in e-book format in January 2010 will publish the novel in print later this year.

Write Stuff registration will be open through March 12. Space still remains in keynote James Frey's two-full-day pre-conference workshop, "How to Plot Like the Pros."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Important Write Stuff Deadlines!

As we approach The Write Stuff 2010, now only a month away, there are important deadlines you should be aware of. The first is in two days:

Thursday, February 25

  • Last registration postmark for the Early Bird discount.
  • Last day for $85/night group rate for a room at the Four Points Sheraton.
  • Last day to submit your first page for Bill Kent's "Start a Fire on Page One" workshop (you were informed if you were successfully enrolled).
  • Conference cancellations are now subject to a $50 processing fee.

Friday, March 12
  • Last registration postmark for mail-in registration for the conference at the full $135 rate.
  • Last registration postmark for mail-in registration for the James Frey two-day pre-conference workshop, "How to Plot Like the Pros," at the same low rate of $115. 
  • No refunds for conference or pre-conference workshop after this date.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

He had The Write Stuff: Ralph Hieb

The third in a series of interviews conference chair Kathryn Craft conducted with former conferees that made successful publishing connections at The Write Stuff conference.

Kathryn: You met Karen Syed, publisher at Echelon Press, last year at The Write Stuff conference. Any advice for people pitching for the first time this year?

Ralph: The best advice I can give is be yourself and stay on topic. A good short summary of your work will get you closer to your goal than straying around what is actually in your work. I practiced delivering what I was going to say a week before the conference. Speaking out loud what you wish to say and doing it in front of a mirror seemed to help me set the timing of my delivery. I received this advice from attending a number of conferences and I believe it paid off.

K: How did the submission process go from there?

R: It took until October to get an answer, and it was a rejection. About one month later the senior editor notified me that one of the editors had read it and liked it. If I was still interested they would offer me a contract. Of course I was interested.

K: How did it feel to be offered a contract—especially following as it did on the heels of a rejection from the same publisher?

R: Is the term walking on air still being used? Because that is exactly how I felt, and still do.

K: Your contract is for publishing an eBook, right? Tell us how the relatively new eBook might factor into an author's plan for career growth.

R: Yes, my contract is for an eBook. I think that it is a good vehicle to get noticed. A recent report on the radio said that eBooks outsold traditionally published books for the holiday season. So it is a market that has a lot of potential. As you know, the more exposure an author gets the better the chances for more contracts.

Ralph Hieb, a former Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group president, lives in Bethlehem PA with his wife Nancy. Ralph is also a member of the Bethlehem Writers Group. Their book, A Christmas Sampler: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales, contains his story, “Walter and Stella.” Ralph enjoys reading and watching vampire movies. He hopes to someday visit a lot of European castles.

Write Stuff registration ALERT: Only 5 days of early bird registration remain! Your registration must be postmarked by Feb. 25 to receive the discounted rate. The hotel group rate of $85 will disappear on that same day. If you can't make your conference decision by then do not fear: we will accept mail-in registrations at the full registration rate of $135 up until a March 12 postmark.

Days to the conference: 34!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

He had The Write Stuff: Steven Walker

The second in a series of interviews conference chair Kathryn Craft conducted with former conferees that made successful publishing connections at The Write Stuff conference.

1. You first met an editor from Kensington Books, Michaela Hamilton, at The Write Stuff conference. Tell us how your pitch session went. Any advice for people pitching for the first time this year?

I actually pitched a different book to Michaela at the 2004 conference. She was very nice and open to several ideas. I was there to learn what she was interested in receiving more than anything else, so I asked her a lot of questions and took her contact information. I later sent her a book proposal for Blood Trail, and she sent me a contract and an advance of several thousand dollars to get started.

The most important opportunity for me was getting to know the agents and editors in a more social atmosphere over drinks on Friday night before the actual conference. In fact, Michaela and I ended up going out to a country and western bar in West Allentown with some other people. She said she wanted to dance. Getting to know an agent or editor makes them seem more human and takes away much of the anxiety when you approach them on a professional level.

2. You did not have an agent at that time, correct? Have you continued to negotiate your contracts without an agent? What advice do you have for others in this regard?

I acted on my own behalf to negotiate my contracts. I knew there wouldn’t be much negotiating room for my first contract with Kensington and I believe that I did as well as any agent would have done for me—better, because I didn't have to give up a percentage to an agent. I did the same thing again with my second contract. The pitch was much easier because I had already built a relationship with the publisher and with Michaela. I didn't even have to send a book proposal, just a page about what I was planning and what sources I would use. I did ask for a bit larger of an advance and I got it without much haggling.

With all that said, I do think that an agent is useful for writers of fiction and those who expect to negotiate a six-figure deal or more. If the subject of a book is going to cause publishers to fight to secure a contract with you (we can dream) then an agent is almost a necessity. A good agent is also great for submitting multiple proposals to various publishers simultaneously and keeping track of all the tedious business side of things that takes away from time writing.

3. How did the editing process go?

The editing process for Blood Trail was a nightmare. I had envisioned a true-crime book that read like a novel—sort of like Capote's In Cold Blood. Kensington wanted something more on the lines of a dry police report—just the facts. The worst part was that I agreed to let the lead investigator on the case become my co-author. He was a cop, not a writer. He was supposed to send everything to me to edit before I would pass it along to Kensington. He sent some stuff to me, some to them—pretty soon everyone was confused. I won't go down that route again but it was a learning process that certainly was enlightening.

Things went a bit smoother while I was working on Predator. The editing process took much longer than the actual investigation and writing of the books. I worked most closely with Mike Shohl on Predator. He did a good job of kicking me in the ass to get the book completed. His objective set of eyes picked up simple mistakes I overlooked and he asked for more in-depth explanations about things I understood clearly but my readers might not. Unfortunately, he is no longer working at Kensington. I still keep in contact with him, because in this industry it’s all who you know.

4. You'll be selling/signing copies of Predator at the conference book fair. Your first book, Blood Trail, was also about a serial murderer. How did you hook up with these guys? And what do you keep in mind when structuring true events into a story people will want to buy? 

Believe it or not, I am not a huge fan of most true-crime books because many of them are not written well. Predator is the exception of course.

Joe Brown, the subject of Blood Trail, is my father-in-law's second cousin. During a trip to Indiana to visit my wife's relatives, they all told me about the life of Joe Brown and how he ended up hacking his girlfriend into little pieces and burying the remains in three different counties. They all knew I wrote horror and that I also worked as a reporter at the time, so they suggested I write a book about Brown.

As far as Predator is concerned, I had just returned from a year in England and touched base with Michaela. She told me she would like to get another book out of me. I spent a month writing about a local teenage boy who started his own religious cult in order to seduce and murder young girls, but Michaela said she wanted something truly devastating—a mass murderer who killed with conscious intent on a larger scale. I read about Timothy Krajcir, who was brought up in the Lehigh Valley. He fit the bill perfectly. His name was current in national headlines and the body count he left behind doubled that of the Son of Sam. I pitched the idea and Kensington gobbled it up. More than just a murder story, Predator delves into the lives of his victims. I wanted readers to get to know the victims so they could be remembered for who they were instead of how they died.

A member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers GroupSteven Walker was born in Heidelberg, Germany and started freelancing professionally in 1989. Since then he has amassed 1,500 publishing credits. In 1996 his first horror novel, Desmodus, was published. Previously a leader in the Bucks County writing community, Steven founded the Lehigh Valley Writers Academy. While writing true crime books in recent years he has also received several awards for his macabre style of poetry.

Write Stuff registration is now open! Sign up now to save money on registration and hotel costs. Days to Early Bird deadline: 11!

Monday, February 8, 2010

YA Publisher Laurie Edwards added

The Write Stuff conference has added young adult publisher Laurie Edwards of Leap Books to its line-up of publishing professionals who will be listening to pitches at this year's conference. Despite booming registration, it turns out The Write Stuff is not immune to the economic uncertainty that holds the publishing industry in its grip: Juliet Grames, editor at Overlook Press, had to withdraw from the line-up when she was recently laid off. We wish Juliet the best, and are thrilled that Laurie was able to join us on such short notice.

You can read Laurie's bio at our conference site. Here's a little more from Laurie about her new company, Leap Books:

Leap Books, LLC, is a new WY-based publisher that opened on January 1, 2010. A member of the Children’s Book Council, Leap is committed to producing quality fiction for teens and tweens. Our Surge line for teens (ages 14-19) will feature paranormals, contemporaries, inspirationals, and mysteries. Our Frolic line for tweens (ages 10-14) will focus on the same categories, but we’ll be putting out lighter paranormals for this age group. We also plan to branch out with fantasy, historical, and multicultural titles.
Although we are open to most every genre, at present we are accepting submissions only from agents or from attendees at conferences where our editors speak. From time to time, we may put out a call for a specific genre via Twitter. Once we acquire a manuscript, each submission goes through a two-level process prior to approval by an editor. A committee composed of editors, educators, librarians, and booksellers who are familiar with the target audience read the manuscript. If they agree it has potential, it goes to a teen focus group for review. Only submissions that get a unanimous and enthusiastic thumbs-up from both panels will be considered by Leap editors for acceptance.
We have an exciting lineup of books slated to come out over the next few months. Watch for Freaksville by Kitty Keswick and Under My Skin by Judith Graves, both first books in werewolf paranormal series by debut authors. Bonnie J. Doerr’s eco-mystery, Island Sting, about the endangered Key deer and Jane Greenhill’s I Was a Teenage Alien, a humorous sci-fi, will round out our spring offerings. We have a light paranormal and funny chick lit lined up for summer, and we’re working on several great titles for fall including For the Love of Strangers, a lyrical coming-of-age tale rooted in Russian mythology, by Jacqueline Horsfall. This popular author of joke books and nonfiction is now taking her writing in whole new direction, and we’re delighted to have this opportunity to publish her poetic and poignant fiction.
Leap Books plans to stay small so we can produce high-quality books and spend time promoting our authors and helping them develop their careers. There will be no mid-list authors at Leap; we only accept top-notch authors with terrific ideas and strong writing skills. At the same time, we’re looking to introduce fresh new voices to the world. We hope to get teens excited and eager to read more, to encourage reluctant readers to pick up books, and to put out books with artistic appeal. To do that, we’ve contracted several artists to add graphic elements to our books. We’re especially thrilled to have the gothic artwork of Canadian graphic artist Val Cox to enhance our paranormal books. For more information about Leap Books, our authors and illustrators, and our latest contests and giveaways, visit us at

Joining Laurie at the conference for the Saturday session "A Conversation with An Editor" will be one of her authors, Kitty Keswick of the Harrisburg, PA area, who wrote Freaksville, a young adult werewolf tale. If you see either of them at the conference, please thank them for coming!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

He had The Write Stuff: Jon Gibbs

The first in a series of interviews conference chair Kathryn Craft conducted with former conferees that made successful publishing connections at The Write Stuff conference.

Kathryn: You met your publisher, Karen Syed of Echelon Press, at last year’s The Write Stuff conference. Tell us how your pitch session went.

Jon: I remember feeling nervous.  Despite appearances to the contrary I’m extremely shy, but Karen’s friendly smile set me at ease. I gave her my elevator pitch. “I’ve written a 55k novel, Fur-Face, an urban fantasy about a 13-year-old boy who meets a talking cat that only he can hear.”

Karen asked a couple of questions as I told her a bit more about the book. She didn’t fall asleep, which I took as a good sign. Afterwards she gave me her business card, asked me to send in the full manuscript, and told me to research the eBook industry. 

K: Any advice for people pitching for the first time this year?

J: Come prepared. Polish then practice your elevator pitch (a one or two line summary of your novel ) until you can say it in your sleep, and be ready to answer questions and talk some more about your novel. 

Be yourself, but be professional. My old gran used to tell me, “You only get one chance to make a first impression, so don’t screw it up you pillock!”—she was known for being a straight talker. 

Listen to what the agent/publisher is saying. Remember, they want your book to be as good as you think it is, but they expect you to be able to tell them what it’s about in a way that captures their interest.

K: How did the submission process go from there?

J: Slowly, though that’s my own fault. I’d learned a lot about writing over the preceding year and decided Fur-Face still needed some polishing, so I set to work over the next two months, getting it into the best shape possible. Taking care to follow Echelon’s submission guidelines, I sent it to Karen at the beginning of July, along with an apology for the delay. Aside from a brief acknowledgement, I didn’t hear anything more until December 30th, when I got an email saying they’d like to offer me an e-Book contract.

K: How did it feel to be offered a contract?

J: Now that it’s sunk in, I’d say ‘validated’ is the word which best sums up how I feel, but when I first read the email it felt… weird.  Not least because earlier that day, I’d posted something on my blog about how I was determined to carve out a career as a writer. 

I wrote Fur-Face (or at least a really awful first draft of it) nearly seven years ago. Back then I really believed that all I had to do was type ‘THE END’, run spell check and wait for agents to come banging at my door. It took me the better part of four years just to figure out that I didn’t know what I was doing, and three more years of learning and revision after that to get to the current ‘We’d like to offer you a contract’ stage.

K: Your contract offered you a chance to publish an eBook. What factors did you take into account as you made your decision about whether to take this step?

J: The key thing for me was editorial input. I don’t expect any publisher to print my book ‘as is.’ I’m not talking about format and grammar (though both are important), but I’m not na├»ve enough to think my novel is perfect. I’m wanted that editorial input about the story arc, character development, etc.

Also, as much as I understand that self-promotion is vital for a book's success, it made sense to look at how Echelon Press promotes itself and its authors.

K: You blog faithfully at "An Englishman in New Jersey." How do you think this has affected your writing career?

It’s had a huge impact. I look on blogging as an important part of my writing career. It’s all very well having a novel published, but in the USA alone more than 250,000 new books come out each year. That’s a lot of competition. 

A blog gives you a chance to connect with people from all around the world. Will all those folks buy your book? No. The most you can hope for is that a small percentage of them might recognize your name when they see it on the spine of a novel or on a webpage, and some of those people might then decide to read the blurb. 

An unexpected benefit of blogging is how much I’ve learned about writing through my journal. There’s a wealth of knowledge and writing know-how on the web. How much would you pay for helpful advice from successful authors, agents and editors in your genre? An online journal gives you access to people from all around the world. Many of them share their knowledge and experience on their blogs, for free

K: Do you still have time to write?

J: Writers make time for pitch/query letters. They do that because they want people to read their work. A good blog will help you achieve that, too. There’s no denying that blogging takes work—I spend at least an hour a day on average, but that leaves plenty of time for writing. Rather than “Do you still have time?” perhaps a better question would be “Is blogging worth making the time for?” to which my answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, USA.  His MG urban Fantasy, FUR-FACE will be published as an e-book by Echelon Press sometime in 2011.  In addition to his online-journal, An Englishman in New Jersey, he occasionally guest posts for unsuspecting bloggers who don’t know him well enough to realize the mistake they’re making – most recently at NathanBransford.comAn active member of the Garden State Horror Writers and the Monmouth Creative Writing Group, as well as a new member of GLVWG, he can usually be found hunched over the laptop in his kitchen. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Write Stuff registration is now open! Sign up now to save money on registration and hotel fees. Days to Early Bird deadline: 19!