Snippets from the Write on Bowen festival

Pix julie Ferguson

Workshop host Julie Ferguson chats with one of the participants at the Write on Bowen 2010 festival

A little late, but here are some of the snippets I gleaned from the Write on Bowen 2010 festival earlier this month.

By Alison Bate

Writer and workshop host Julie Ferguson recalled the thrill of an early morning phone call from publishers wanting to publish her book.

“It’s paralyzingly exciting,” she told workshop attendants at her panel Book Magic. “My husband said : ‘You didn’t get that excited when I asked you to marry me!’ ”

But he did hand her a double gin and tonic at 5 a.m.

However, Julie cautioned others: “It was many years of work in the making.”

She debunked various myths in the publishing industry, saying it was not necessary to have an agent and it was OK to phone publishers directly. She also noted that it was far easier to get published in Canada than in the U.S., and that more than 80 per cent of books in Canada were published by unagented authors.

Ferguson also cautioned writers against approaching an agent or publisher before their material is in excellent shape. “Most first-time authors start the submission process two years too early,” she said.

* * *

Susan Safyan, from Arsenal Pulp Press, proved very popular with writers wanting to pitch their book, and earlier hosted a workshop full of publishing tips. Among them:

* Don’t bug a publishing house in the summer, as they’re flat out preparing for the fall list. Likewise, around Xmas time.

*The query letter should be your very best writing. If you can’t write a good query letter, how can publishers be confident you can write a whole book?

* While waiting to hear back from publishers or agents: rewrite the book,
work on other things and make friends or meet other authors.

* * *

Elee Kraljii Gardiner said that writing Chapbooks (less than 45 pages) was a great wedge to open the door to publishing. It’s also one way of getting around the twin “devils” of publishing: printing costs and distribution costs.

She also recommended getting an ISBN number. “It makes it real,” she said.

* * *

Children’s publisher Michael Katz from Tradewind Books told writers: “We’re looking for voice. Then we’re looking for story.”

* * *

Magazine writer and author Daniel Wood said it was important not to get stuck on one idea, and to keep several projects in the go at once.

He talked workshop participants through the structured process of taking an idea through various stages to the proposal stage. When making a magazine proposal, he suggested the first paragraph should include an anecdote (the hook); followed by some facts about the bigger issues (the report) and then a synthesis describing the slant or focus of the article (think).

Wood also described the art of finding narrative in a 3,500-word article, using a story arc very similar to screenwriting.

* * *

Writer, historian and teacher Richard Somerset Mackie listened carefully to participants’ writing projects and discussed the best ways of dealing with an immense amount of information and finding the narrative thread.

* * *

At the beginning of the festival, adventurer and travel writer Anthony Dalton also entertained audiences with his tales of chasing a tiger for two days (it led to one book and 16 articles); watching baboons on a cliff: “I still have nightmares about baboons”; and travelling through Africa: “The most dangerous animal in Africa is the water buffalo.”

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