The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back to Basics: WotS 2006

by Tamara Lee

Busy day here in jog-town, Vancouver.

I’d committed to two great events, the 21st Annual AIDS Walk and the 12th Annual Word On The Street Book & Magazine Fair , a free one-day festival held in five cities across Canada, chock-full of readings, exhibits, performances and ‘all-round literary mayhem,’ just as their guide promises.

Having missed it last year, I was looking forward this year’s fest: the Poetry Slam; the always-hilarious Haiku Night in Canada; and some readings from favourite writers; as well as several panel discussions that looked interesting. This year also included an indie comics concourse; some cooking shows; and other new bits and pieces that I just couldn’t get to in the few hours I had left in my day. In fact, I lamented the days when it was a two-day event.

Nevertheless, like a crazy woman, I tried to do it all, and after my 10-plus km walk around the Sea Wall I headed down to WotS to squeeze what I could from the event.

Initially I’d hoped to catch Roch Carrier reading his beloved (and 5-dollar-bill honoured) story "The Hockey Sweater" but I’d just missed him, twice. Disappointing, yes, but there was plenty else see and read at the myriad independent magazine and book publishers exhibits. (Looking over the guide now, I see just how many great exhibits I missed.)

Then I had to choose between catching a Patrick Lane reading or sitting in on a panel discussion, “How to Get Your Work Published.” Seeing some familiar names on the panel, I thought I’d try to learn a thing or two.

Billeh Nickerson (poet and editor of Event Magazine) moderated, and the panellists were: Jenn Farrell (writer and managing editor of subTerrain magazine); Carla Elm Clement (executive editor at Prism and associate editor at Geist magazine); and Chris Labonté (writer and assistant to the president at Douglas & McIntyre.)

The discussion was mostly geared towards educating new writers on do’s and don’ts, so the advice sometimes bordered on simple common-sense, but I did glean some good reminders, lest one be remembered for all the wrong reasons:

Some cautionary advice
**When submitting in Canada use Canadian English, thank you very much (Billeh referred to Eats Shoots and Leaves and the Chicago Manual of Style), and they all cautioned there is no excuse for bad grammar.

And some obvious advice
**Use large envelopes please, and proper postage on the reply envelope.
**Read the gosh-darn guidelines, people, and follow them to a T!
**Write one-page letters, don't use staples, and be professional.
**Know the market, read the magazine, and be sure the piece is right for them.

The panel also spent a great deal of time soothing the future ego-crushed in the maxed-out audience: it’s not personal when your work’s rejected, it usually means the work is not right for them, for any number of reasons, like they recently pubbed another piece about dead grandfathers.

Chris Labonté said it well: 'Editors want to say yes; they’re not there with a big ‘no’ stamp just waiting to use it.’ So, don’t make it easy for them to say no. Jenn Farrell added that a wall of rejections could be considered a badge of honour, because, hey, at least you know you’re getting your work out there. Rejection happens. But if you get any sort of personalised response, do let yourself be thrilled, because given the stretched resources at indie pubs, that personalised note is golden. Remember, though, if that happens, if you think to send a thank-you note, you’ll be remembered for the right reasons.

Did I mention they talked a lot about rejection?

Other plain advice: network, workshop, go to events, subscribe to the magazines, volunteer. Be in and of the writer community, since people really do remember you, and that can only be helpful. Finally, for god’s sake, read the genre and types of books/stories you write.

When they took questions, I mustered some courage to ask something many of my writer pals here in Canada have: what up with the simul-sub situation?

From what I gleaned from the answer, a few folks have ruined it for the rest of us, namely that their lack of professionalism in advising editors the piece was accepted elsewhere has caused huge hassles for mags. Not a way to make a name for yourself, and just bad form, people. If you do take your chances with simultaneous submissions, keep very good tabs on where your work is sitting. But all the panellists agreed that, if after 4-6 months you’ve not heard back, it is acceptable to email an inquiry, to let them know you’ll be sending the story elsewhere in a month.

Did I say this panel discussion was full of common sense?

A couple other highlights from the panel came at the end:
**After I mentioned the simul-sub thing, a fella I didn’t know (turned out to be Neil Aitken, poet and editor of Boxcar Poetry Review) passed along to me the website address for, a ‘database of over 1275 current markets for short fiction and poetry’ that will allow you to search for specific pubs that accept simul-subs, among other criteria. Thanks, Neil.

**Chris Labonté also plugged his course at UBC, called Exploring a Career in Writing.

It looks like a very informative course ‘about what it takes to build a career in writing,' and one can only assume if the assistant to the president at D&M is teaching this course, there’s a real need for it. With Chris’s knowledge and his great humour, it’s sure to be worth the bucks if you’re serious about getting your name and work out there.

After perusing the last stalls standing; picking up some free giveaways (secret note: end of the day is great for freebies); and reconnecting (yes, networking, me!) with some publishing folks I’ve met along the way, I headed home.

Wandering out past the last of the stalls, I heard Roch Carrier reading from his new novel at the Canada Writes tent, but just as I approached, I heard him say “Merci. Bon soir,” and then the endearing man in the tweed coat, our beloved National Librarian, moved off the stage to sign some books.

(photo by freedryk)


Blogger Anne C. said...

I am the (unpublished) queen of the personalized rejection so it's encouraging to hear that that might mean something.

Another editor told me thank-you notes were a no-no, that I should simply acknowledge kind comments in subsequent cover letters.

What do you think?

p.s. Thanks for a great post, Tamara. Quill and Quire, Vancouver, look out!

Mon Sep 25, 08:18:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks, Anne. I think Jenn's words comforted a lot of people. Best of luck with Q&Q!

About the thank you notes I, too, was a bit surprised (and embarrassed, having neglected tending to this in the past). I'm by no means an expert on this stuff, I'm just relaying the advice. What Jenn meant was if you receive a personalised rejection note, she (and the others on the panel agreed) thinks a very brief note is a courtesy. Only about 1 in, like, 300 subs gets a personalised rejection (her numbers), so I suppose it depends on the contents. Obviously these 3 editors wouldn't mind, but perhaps it is a case-by-case thing.

Mon Sep 25, 11:02:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Haiku Night in Canada? Love it! I saw a familiar name in your post: Billeh Nickerson. He was one of the faculty at the Victoria School of Writing's summer session. He's got a great sense of humour. Intersting bit of advice about Candian spelling. Lately, I've seen a number of books and stories by Canadian writers with U.S. spelling.

Great, informative post, Tamara. Thanks.

Mon Sep 25, 12:31:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

Very interesting stuff, Tamara, thanks for the back room info.

Hmmm... the thank-you notes - I have sent some thank-you emails and wondered whether or not it was professional (or just syrupy/whiny.. please remember ME!)

You right though, it's a case by case thing.

Mon Sep 25, 12:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks, guys.

Tricia, it was Billeh who mentioned the Canadian English thing, and his whole point was: for Canadian pubs, submit Can English; US pubs, US English; Brit pubs, Brit English. Perhaps these pubs you're referring to were Cdn authors in US publications? Anyway, my guess is if it's a specifically Cdn pub (ie, one that boasts it high percentage of Cdn writers), it is best to err on the side of caution and use the 'ou' and double-l spellings. It was a good remind for me, and I'm grateful he mentioned it.

Mon Sep 25, 02:20:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Spelling is something I need to watch, I have the bad habit of mixing my Can and US important to be consistent. Great post Tamara!

Tue Sep 26, 11:49:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I mention rejection stinks? I'm getting to used to it. I need to remember that postage too. Enjoyed the piece, Tamara. Diane

Thu Sep 28, 10:36:00 pm GMT-4  

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