Tag Archives: crossroads writers

bernice and chuck

Wordy South, Ep. 3: Bernice McFadden & Chuck Wendig

(NOTE: This is the corrected version of the podcast. The first post was missing a few words. Sorry!)

What “lunatic” thing did acclaimed novelist Bernice McFadden do until 2005? And why did she stop?

Find out in this interview with the two-time Hurston/Wright Award nominee and author of New York Times editor’s choice book “Gathering of Waters.” She has a ton of great insight to share with writers trying to complete their novel.

The next time you think about saying you could care less, be aware pen monkey Chuck Wendig may tap you on the shoulder, eyeball you up and down, and then shake his head, “No, you could care less. And you should.”

We play his speech from the 2012 Crossroads so you know why.

Shout-outs to a couple of talented writers in the Crossroads family.

YA novelist Lauren Morrill, who made Crossroads 2013 awesome and then released her second book–”Being Sloan Jacobs”–on January 7. You can get your copy here.

You can see what Lauren looked like in high school here:

Delilah S. Dawson, writer of paranormal romance and whatnot, just unleashed “Damsel and the Daggerman,” a new Blud series novella. And, on January 28, you can get your hands on “Wicked After Midnight,” which may or may not be about lonely mogwai who eat dinner too late and have to deal with their emotions as they’re transformed into gremlins.

Also, Susannah Breslin is awesome.

Find these folks on Twitter:

Bernice McFaddenChuck WendigLauren MorrillDelilah S. DawsonSusannah Breslin, Crossroads and Chris Horne

Web interviews and blogs:

Bernice McFadden – interview How to survive 74 rejections (BONUS: M.W. Gerard’s review of “Glorious”)

 Chuck Wendig - interview The Mutter Draft

Lauren Morrill – guest blog “Do you still love it?”

Delilah S. Dawson – reviewed “Creepy Carnivals & Steampunk”


Gear up! “Writing is a lifestyle” shirts by Modern Giant

Jason at Modern Giant has FINALLY made his award-winning “Writing is a lifestyle” design available as a T-shirt. And we think you’d look great in one. Seriously. Buy one and flaunt it to all your jealous friends. But as they say, flaunt it if ya got it… so if you ain’t got it, you can’t flaunt it. That’s infallible logic, yo. Click here: http://moderngiant.bigcartel.com/product/writing-is-a-lifestyle-tee


Short Story

What’s the “Short Story” ticket?

Short Story

You have spoken and we have listened. Several of our folks said they can’t get off work early on Friday and they wanted a Saturday-only ticket, which is what we’ve just created: the “Short Story” ticket. Now, for just $99, you can get into all our daytime Saturday sessions, panels and talks.

Unfortunately, the Short Story ticket doesn’t include the lunch voucher and it won’t get you into our special sessions on Friday and Sunday, but if you’re on a tight schedule and need to keep a close eye on your budget, this is a deal that’s hard to beat.

And stay tuned… the full schedule comes out today!

firecracker david iserson cropped

Review of FIRECRACKER by David Iserson

David Iserson, a writer for “SNL,” “The New Girl” and “Up All Night,” made his YA debut with “Firecracker” this May. He was interviewed in the Los Angeles Times, reviewed at Reading Rants and featured in Entertainment Weekly’s Shelf Life and on ForeverYoungAdult.com. And you should love his star-studded book trailer for “Firecracker,” which you can watch below. This will be his first visit to Crossroads and we’re geeked. Meet him at Crossroads when you register by clicking here

Meaghan Walsh Gerard reviews FIRECRACKER by David Iserson

firecracker david iserson

“Firecracker” by David Iserson

Only once before have a read a YA book most of the way through before realizing it was categorized as such. I haven’t got anything against YA per se, but having been 29 for a couple of years now, I am generally uninterested in the adolescent themes they explore. But occasionally (though rarely) a YA novel manages to defy its genre conventions and just be a darn good story.

Our tempestuous heroine, and narrator, is Astrid Krieger and she lives in a rocket ship. Yes, you read that right. Astrid is the teenaged daughter of very wealthy if aloof parents. In short, Astrid is bored. Her only amusements are pulling the strings of those less perceptive than herself. She’s been recently expelled from her very exclusive high school for cheating – something she never denies doing but only determines to find out who turned her in.

Her therapist (and former dean) instead challenges Astrid to do at least three things that she doesn’t want to do. As an embittered, independent teen, the list of potential tasks is quite lengthy. But as Astrid embarks on her emotional scavenger hunt, she realizes that she doesn’t hate everyone/thing quite as much as she thought.

FIRECRACKER is a smart and funny novel, with a freshly modern voice. Angsty without being desperate, it also has a dash of classic 1980s high school movie mixed in. Astrid breaks the fourth wall quite often and speaks directly to her readers – and it works.

I probably don’t need to tell you what it’s like in a public school cafeteria. I mean, it’s very likely that you’ve been to one (or are sitting in one right now). And it you’ve seen one, I’m sure you’ve seen them all. But I’ll describe it anyway in case you are home-schooled (in which case, your mom is probably really upset that you’re reading this book because of the cursing. Loc 619 of 3004

And her descriptions of others are hysterical and spot-on.

Talia was feebly drunk. Drunk-Talia was like one of those inflatable people with swinging arms outside car dealerships. Loc. 808 of 3004.


Mason was an aspiring bully, and that’s why I figured he would be outside smoking with Melty. They must’ve thought smoking cigarettes ft the part. But they should have known that if they really wanted to effectively inflict pain on a victim, it would help if they didn’t get winded while chasing someone up the staircase. Don’t smoke because it makes it a lot harder to beat someone up. That’s my public service message. Loc. 1974 of 3004.

Despite her flippant manner, Astrid is a complex and sympathetic character. When it comes time to implement her plan that is so-crazy-it-just-might-work, we are firmly in her camp.

Even if you are out of your teenage years (like me, by a good amount), this fast-paced book is highly enjoyable. I can only imagine if I had had Astrid to look up to when I was in 6th or 7th grade.

Watch the book trailer for FIRECRACKER below.

FIRECRACKER by David Iserson

ISBN 9781595143709 | 336 pages | 16 May 2013 | Razorbill | 9.25 x 6.25in | 12 – AND UP years




Location, location, location!

This is Macon in the early 1900's... it has changed (some) since then. Now, everything is in beautiful Technicolor!

This is Macon in the early 1900′s… it has changed (some) since then. Now, everything is in beautiful Technicolor!

Where is the Crossroads Writers Conference?

This year, the conference returns to the Macon, Georgia campus of Mercer University. A lot has changed around the college since we were last there. Namely, the growth of Mercer Village, which features a great little coffee shop Jittery Joe’s, a Barnes and Noble, and some great places to grab a bite: Ingleside Village Pizza, Francar’s Wings, Margarita’s Mexican Grill and Fountain of Juice. Don’t forget the large and lovely Tattnall Square Park next door, so if you need a few minute to wander around and collect your thoughts, you can find solitude there. To find your way to Mercer University, just click here, hit “get directions” and type in your address.

Is there an official hotel for us to stay in this year?

Yep! The brand spankin’ new Holiday Inn North is the official hotel of the Wordy South. They have writer-friendly rates (get a great discount off their regular prices when you ask for the Crossroads Writers room deal), a great bar for after-hours hanging out and we’ll run a shuttle from the hotel to the conference to make sure you get where the other word nerds are.

Wait… where is Macon, Georgia?

Right smack dab in the middle of the state, about an hour and a half south of Atlanta and about three hours west of Savannah, conveniently situated on I-75 and I-16.

Macon native John Oliver Killens was a co-founder of the Harlem Writers Guild and the author of several novels, like "Youngblood" and "And Then We Heard the Thunder." Photo: Carl Van Vechten

Macon native John Oliver Killens wrote several novels, like “Youngblood” and “And Then We Heard the Thunder.” (Photo: Carl Van Vechten)

The cool part is that Macon has long been a little creative haven that has been home to a variety of writers, musicians, filmmakers and artists who have make a global impact with their work. We’re talking about John Oliver Killens, the Macon-born co-founder of the Harlem Writers Guild in whose honor the conference is named, and poet/musician/lawyer/soldier Sidney Lanier and novelist Tina McElroy Ansa, Joel Chandler Harris (aka – Uncle Remus) and former CNN president Tom Johnson  and Pulitzer Prize winner George Weller who settled in here after becoming the first journalist into Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped.

We’re talking about Flannery O’Connor who would make the short drive over from Milledgeville, and about Alice Walker, who grew up in Eatonton and still has kin here. And, of course, we’re talking about Otis Redding, Little Richard, the Allman Brothers, James Brown, Lena Horne, Lucinda Williams and her poet daddy Miller Williams. We’re even talking about Mike Mills and Bill Berry of REM, Jason Aldean, Young Jeezy and Meiko. We’re talking about visits to the old cotton mills by Sherwood Anderson and the summer Tennessee Williams spent here, which inspired Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

We could go on, but you get the drift, right? It’s a cool little place to come recharge your creative batteries.

Here are some links to help you learn more about Macon:

Macon Arts – Ovations365 

Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau

College Hill Alliance

Historic Macon

Gateway Macon

NewTown Macon

City of Macon

Bibb County

Main Street Macon

Why go to Crossroads? Because Meaghan says so!

Check out Meaghan's blog at MWGerard.com!

Check out Meaghan’s blog at MWGerard.com!

Our friend Meaghan Walsh Gerard is a writer. When we met her, she was working and living the nonprofit life, which is about as lucrative as being a writer. That’s to say not much. And though she didn’t get one of our full scholarships, she did get a partial scholarship, funded largely by our awesome community of writers, because we knew we needed her to join us last year.

What a great decision on our part! When you meet her at this year’s conference, you’ll know exactly why too! She has a ton of fire and a bunch of talent. Best yet, she has that follow-through we adore at Crossroads, which is to say she’s a good influence on a few of us slackers (ahem, Chris).

Here’s an except about what she had to say about her experience, meeting Crossroads organizers and mingling with our all-star lineup of professional writers — and why she thinks you should join us this year. Meaghan, thank you! (To read the whole dang thing and to check out more of her work, go to MWGerard.com.)

The act of writing is solitary but I never knew writing could be so friendly. There is no competitive jealousy at Crossroads. Everyone I met and talked to wanted to better their own process and was genuinely interested in each other’s projects. And for the first time ever, I won NaNoWriMo that November. …If you like writing, GO… …It’s a celebration of the written word. It’s the annual reminder for those of us who need the encouragement to keep writing during those subway commutes and while the dinner is cooking. It’s Thanksgiving, that once a year reunion, we gather around the table, tell stories, eat* too much, and promise to keep in touch (which we do!).

Crossroads 500: Starting in Central Georgia

Starting today, we’re launching the Crossroads 500, a list of the coolest writing people, places and things. Three times a week — usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday — every week from here until the end of the year, we’re going to share six new entries into the Crossroads 500.

The best part is that you can help us make it happen. Share your favorites by clicking here: Tell us who and what should be in the Crossroads 500.

It’s another way to help you get that story out of you and into the heads of the people who deserve it. But it’s also our way of shining the light on the folks who might otherwise be ignored.

And to kick things off, we’re starting our list in central Georgia, home of the Crossroads Writers Conference.

In no particular order, here we go…

Mercer University Press isn’t your traditional university press. Instead they specialize in Southern literature and books about Southern culture. That’s just one reason we like them so much. In addition to being good folks, they’ve been good partners with the conference, launching both their Macon poetry collection “Writing on Napkins in the Sunshine Club” and their writing awards for fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. Follow them on Twitter and meet ‘em in person at Crossroads this October.

This year’s conference, our fifth, will be at Mercer University, a short walk to Jittery Joe’s in Mercer Village. This eclectic coffee shop was born and raised in Athens, Georgia, but migrated to Macon, lured by “the song and soul of the South.” Now, if you’re looking for a good local caffeine supplier–whether in Macon or Athens–this is the place to “get your story on.”

But what shall ye read over coffee? Ask Eric at the Golden Bough Bookstore in downtown Macon. Not only do they carry all the awesome stuff that the big box stores neglect, but many are “gently used” and he takes trade. Better still, his doors are almost always open to the creative community, whether it’s a noise punk band or someone’s first reading as a published author.

While you’re in Macon, don’t forget to stop by the Sidney Lanier Cottage for a visit. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a reading when you do. This former childhood home of poet, lawyer, soldier and musician Sidney Lanier has become a hub for central Georgia’s writing community. It also serves as the home of Historic Macon, a nonprofit that works hard to preserve the city’s historic houses and buildings.

If you liked that, gas up and head to Andalusia, about 30 minutes away in Milledgeville. This is the family farm where Flannery O’Connor lived, wrote and played with her pet peacocks. Many of her eccentric and thoroughly Southern characters were inspired by real folks in the area. Stop by a gas station there for a biscuit and listen in to the conversations being had.

That might just inspire you to pick up the pen and craft a little fiction yourself. If that’s the case, park your seat at Blackbird Coffee in downtown Milledgeville, grab some java and see what happens. Who knows, you start brainstorming with a student from our last Crossroads 500 entry in this installment, the creative writing program at Georgia College & State University, which publishes both the Flannery O’Connor Review and Arts & Letters. Faculty members Alice Friman and Allen Gee have both shared their knowledge at Crossroads before.

Crossroads 500:

Andalusia Farm

GCSU’s MFA in Creative Writing

Golden Bough Bookstore

Jittery Joe’s Coffee

Mercer University Press

Sidney Lanier Cottage

As Seen On Twitter   Wordy South

As Seen On Twitter

The luckiest writers conference in the world got even luckier this year with the best lineup of writers and best group of attendees in our brief life. We couldn’t be happier right now. Here are a few of the highlights… as seen on Twitter.




Robert Venditti

X-O Manoawesome: interview with Robert Venditti

Rachel: How does working in digital, something you did for the first time in The Surrogates: Case Files, change the collaboration of a writer and artist? Is it essentially the same process or are there some aspects that alter? How does it improve upon the traditional methods?

ROBERT VENDITTI: Brett Weldele and I have a done two graphic novels with each other, so our process is pretty established.  It also helps that Brett handles all of the art himself—even the lettering—so it’s really just the two of us working with Chris Staros at Top Shelf (publisher of The Surrogates).  I will say that the content of The Surrogates: Case Files lends itself well to the digital format, and Brett’s style, particularly his unique color palette, really shines on a screen.  There’s this one page in the first issue where he draws a dusting of fall leaves, and the colors really pop.  It’s one of my favorite moments.


Robert with his colleagues Gail Simone and Nathan Edmondson at Crossroads 2011 (Photo: GR Lucas)

Rachel:  You recently began publishing your first month by month, working on X-O Manowar.  How does this sort of quick production and historical sci-fi/fantasy aspect change your style of writing? How does it determine your research process?

VENDITTI: Writing for a monthly book is a big change from the graphic novel writing I’m accustomed to doing.  There are always multiple issues in various stages of production, which took getting used to, since I tend to be a linear writer.  With a monthly book, there’s also a need to reorient the reader every issue—without making it read like you’re reorienting them—and I’m still learning how to do that as effectively as I can.  On the plus side, you have a new book on the shelf every month instead of a graphic novel every other year, so that’s nice.

On the research side, since X-O Manowar has a heavy historical element, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to get the details right, particularly in the opening half of the first issue, where we see the main character as a Visigoth in the 5th Century.  I won’t claim that everything is accurate, but if I got something wrong, it wasn’t for lack of effort.  I spent almost a whole day trying to find out whether or not Visigoth saddles would’ve had stirrups at the Battle of Pollentia.  Historians seem to differ on that point, so I went with no stirrups, since that would look different than every other saddle that’s been drawn in a comic.


Rachel: You have, like a lot of comic writers, a handful of projects going simultaneously.  How do you keep your feet on the ground functioning as a writer in so many worlds?  What is something that you do to keep yourself present for the stories as individual worlds?

VENDITTI: I divide my days up into even chunks, working on a separate project for a couple of hours at a time, so I’m always moving ahead on everything at once.  At least that’s my plan.  Inevitably, something of the this-needs-to-be-done-right-now variety comes up, and the day gets blown apart.  The alternative method would be to not have a plan and let each day decide for itself what you’re going to work on, but of course when you do that, nothing happens and you end up wasting a day.  So I start each day with a plan, and even though I know going in the plan isn’t going to be followed, I allow myself to hope that it will.  I’m an eternal optimist.


Rachel: X-O Manowar has been described as “the cornerstone of the Valiant brand”(Simons, CBR).  With the challenge of producing a month by month for the first time while this precedent exists… how’s that pressure treating you?  What’s something you do to wind down in the midst of such a wild schedule?

VENDITTI: Honesty, I try not to think about things like that.  If I considered it my responsibility to make X-O Manowar the “cornerstone of the Valiant brand,” I’d probably freeze up at the keyboard.  I just try to write the best comics I can the way I write them, and hope the audience will respond positively.  Thankfully, things have gone well so far, but with a monthly book you’re only as good as the latest issue, so there’s no time to rest on your laurels.

As for winding down . . . I do anything that has nothing to do with writing.  But it all makes its way back to the page in one way or another.  All writing is autobiographical in the sense that it’s made from the writer’s influences and experiences, so on days—and there’s plenty of them—when the words just don’t seem to come, I go out and make some of those experiences.


Rachel:  It’s been said that The Surrogates “reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode for The Wire” (i09).  In my book, that is some damn fine praise!  How do you continue to push yourself to kick it up to the next level or is it a “slow and steady wins the race” game?  Do you pay much attention to your reviews (I mean other than when an interviewer forces you too) or do you find it distracting?

VENDITTI: I’d like to say I don’t read reviews, but it’s hard to ignore them.  Especially in the digital age, when reviews are posted online in advance of the book’s release, so for a week or so, they’re the only response that’s out there in the world.  I try not to get too wrapped up in them, though.  I just keep my head down and do what I think a story needs.  Whether I’m successful in the end is up to each individual reader to decide for themselves.


Rachel:  Your work seems to push toward the “new.” How do you find your challenges and adapt to a changing marketplace?  What would you say has been your most valuable learning experience over the years and what is one challenge you have on your mental list that remains unchecked?

VENDITTI: I make a conscious effort to do something different with each new project.  So far in my career, I’ve written cyberpunk sci-fi (The Surrogates), political/medical thriller (The Homeland Directive), middle-grade fantasy (the adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), young-adult vampire romance (the adaptation of the Blue Bloods novel), and now with X-O Manowar, mainstream superhero comics.  A lot of people will say you should brand yourself with a particular genre and build your career from there, but if I did that, I think I’d feel like I was in a rut.  Changing things up keeps me engaged with the story.

As for challenges I’d still like to tackle, writing a prose novel is definitely at the top of the list.



Q&A: Carrie Howland, Agent, Donadio & Olson, Inc.

If you missed Carrie the first time, don’t worry because she’s back for Crossroads 2013! Click here to register: CrossroadsWriters.splashthat.com

The Mind of an Agent: Chatting with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson

Chris: I’m always curious about how people end up where they are. How’d you become an agent? Had you always set out to do it, or did you happen into it?

Carrie: I grew up in a small town in Michigan where an ‘agent’ was someone who sold you insurance. I attended a private liberal arts school for undergrad, on Biology/Environmental Research and Pre-Med Scholarships. (I’m probably one of the few literary agents who has taken, and passed, two semesters of Organic Chemistry.) The ‘mistake’ of course was taking Creative Writing 101 to fulfill an art requirement. I’d always loved to write and began reading (more like devouring) books at the age of three, much to the chagrin of my kindergarten teacher who didn’t know what to do with me two years later. After declaring a Creative Writing major, I still fulfilled all my Pre-Med requirements (and even added Pre-Law, ‘just to be safe’). Then I decided to spend a semester off-campus. By this time, I’d become the Poetry Editor of our campus literary journal (which drew submissions from across the country) as well as a reporter for the campus newspaper. So, to me, it made sense to study ‘abroad’…in New York City. I asked to be placed at a publishing house as an editorial intern or at a literary journal. My NY program advisor called one day and, in the thickest New York accent I’d ever heard, and asked if I’d like to interview at a literary agency. I said, “Yes, absolutely!” then immediately got off the phone to Google ‘Literary Agent.’ In the end, I landed the internship at a well-known boutique agency with one of the most impressive client lists I’d ever seen. The agency was Donadio & Olson, Inc., and the rest, as they say, is history…

Chris: WHY are you an agent? Why do it? Certainly there have be headaches here and there, troubles and whatnot. So what makes you get up in the morning and keep at it?

Carrie: I went into publishing because I couldn’t think of a better job than getting paid to read amazing books for a living. I decided to become an agent because I wanted that close, personal relationship with the authors. I like to say that I represent an author’s career, not just his or her book. I’m fortunate enough to work with my writers in every aspect of their careers, from editing to publicity and more. There’s nothing more fulfilling than discovering a new writer and knowing that you had an integral part in getting that first book published, and establishing a career. So what makes me get up in the morning? My authors. Bob Dylan said, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to suppose that Mr. Dylan is referring to literary agents here…

Chris: What traits do you, an agent, think make an agent good? How do you think that differs from what writers are sometimes looking for?

Carrie: I’ve always said that the two best traits I possess as an agent are: the mind of a poet and the work ethic of a Midwesterner. I represent literary fiction, and some non-fiction, so I love beautiful writing. I often say that my ideal book would be a novel written by a poet. In addition, I write poetry, not fiction, which enables me to separate my own writing from what I do day-to-day. I think it’s helpful to have the distinction so as not to feel burned out in either genre. And aside from a love of writing, to be a good agent, you have to work. A lot. There’s no other way to say it. If you’re looking for a 9-5 job, being an agent probably isn’t for you. I spend evenings reading, weekends at book fairs and conferences, lunches with authors and editors, I even read submissions on the elliptical at the gym. I absolutely love my job, so it rarely feels like work. Along those lines, I always tell my authors, “I can’t want it more than you do.” Basically, I need them to put in the same kind of dedication to their work. I suppose not all agents harass their clients about keeping up with social media, attending book events (apart from their own), even what they’re working on next, but I do. It’s my job to build an author’s career, which means developing all aspects from writing to public image. I’m definitely a hands-on agent, so if an author is looking for someone to check in with from time-to-time, we probably won’t be a good match.

Chris: You seem to have a lot of fondness for the writers you work with, so… What do you, as an agent, look for in a writer? What about as a reader? Is there any difference?

Carrie: It’s true; I adore all of my writers. I never take on a book or author that I’m not completely passionate about. I touched on this a bit before, but I look for beautiful writing. It’s my personal opinion that, you can either write, or you can’t, and while that craft can be honed, it can’t necessarily be taught. Despite the exorbitant amount of submissions we get on a daily basis, not everyone is a writer. Just like not everyone can be a model. (I know how it feels—I’m only 5’3.) In addition to style, I look for a strong voice. I believe that if the voice is strong, the reader will follow it anywhere. So, when I see a manuscript that’s beautifully written, with a strong voice, I’m of course drawn to it. Other issues, like plot, character development, etc. come in to play as well, but to some degree, those can be fixed. I don’t expect a manuscript to be perfect when I receive it. In fact, I expect that it won’t be. This isn’t to say that a writer shouldn’t be submitting the best possible manuscript, but if there are issues that I think we can solve together, I’ll work with a writer to get that done. Again, I’m a hands-on agent. My writers often go through several drafts with me before we submit their manuscripts to editors. But I think you’re doing your clients a disservice by not sending out the most polished draft possible. And because of this back-and-forth, I look for an author with a good attitude, someone I can develop a good rapport with, who will listen to my notes and, while I don’t expect that he or she take every single one, will thoughtfully consider them. I also look for writers who, as I said before, are just as committed to their careers as I am. I want writers who will do everything possible to, along with my help, promote themselves and their work.

Chris: You brought up something interesting in an earlier email that maybe doesn’t get asked enough: Why get an agent at all?

Carrie: Of course the simple answer to this question is, “Because you have to.” But I remember being on that side of the “Because I told you so.” conversation with my mom growing up, so let me explain. In order to submit to a major publisher, you need to have an agent. Most publishing houses simply don’t accept un-agented queries. One of the many jobs I have as an agent is to get to know these publishing houses and the editors who work there. By developing these relationships, I know who would be the right editor for a particular book, and that editor knows that I represent quality writers, and won’t waste his or her time on something that I don’t think would be right for that particular list. Agents are also, for lack of a better term, filters. We weed through the hundreds of manuscripts we see and show only the best to these editors. You might say we’re on the frontlines of publishing. (It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.) Beyond the ‘Because I said so.’ argument, what is the benefit to you? There are countless benefits, really. Initially, you have a professional to help you polish your manuscript. You also have, generally, the backing of an agency which may have a lot of history, as mine does, which means people know of it, and they pay attention to our submissions and our authors. When it comes time to negotiations, agents play a huge part. We have the knowledge and background of years of book deals and hundreds of contracts. We know how to negotiate higher advances, what rights to hold back in order to make the client even more money, and what language in a contract might affect the author negatively in the future. We work for you. Some people ask, “Why give a percentage of my earnings to an agent?” My answer is always, “Because you can’t afford not to.” I almost always earn back my commission, and then some, meaning an author still ends up making more money than he or she would have without an agent, and the job is done for you. Basically, your agent is there to do all the legwork, negotiating, and even schmoozing so you can focus on what you do best: writing.

Chris: We typically put more emphasis at the conference on “getting the writing done” than getting published, but clearly we want people to get published, or at least read. When does a writer know they’re “ready” for an agent?

Carrie: In my opinion, most writers are ready for an agent at least one or two drafts after they think they are. Meaning, take your time. You don’t have to, nor should you, send out your novel the second you type that last word. Give it to friends you trust (other writers, former workshop companions, an old professor, etc.). And take some time away from it. I always tell writers to put their novels in a drawer for a month, then come back to them. You’ll have a fresh perspective and undoubtedly see things that you never saw before. You’ll have that ‘Aha!’ moment where you’ll say to yourself, “How could I have considered sending this out without changing___?” Of course, all that being said, don’t tinker. A few drafts, a month away, these are good things. But if you get to the point where you’re adding and deleting the same line for a week straight, it’s probably time to start submitting to agents.

Chris: What should a writer do to find out if they’re ready? And when they’re ready, what should their first move be?

Carrie: Again, if you’ve accomplished what I’ve mentioned above, you’re probably ready to submit. My recommendation: take that month while your novel is settling in the drawer to begin your agent research. That has to be your first step: research. It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to submit your novel blindly to one hundred agencies. So much information is available online now, finding an agent that aligns with your work is easier than ever. One bit of advice that I love to give: check the backs of your favorite books and see which agents are acknowledged there. Chances are, if you have five favorite writers, those you feel your work most resembles, or those writers you feel most influenced by, those agents are a good place to start. And of course, there’s nothing an agent loves more than his or her authors, so knowing that you like them, too, always hits a sweet spot. It also lets us know that you’ve done your research. I love to get queries from writers that say, this book by your author is one of my favorites and so I thought you’d like my novel. Don’t, however, throw in any name just to have it there. I’ll know that your work isn’t similar to a certain author when I start reading your manuscript and it’s nothing like that author’s book. For example, if that author writes literary fiction and your novel is a commercial thriller, it doesn’t bode well for your research. Along those lines, look at the genres each agent represents. If you have an amazing idea for a cookbook, that’s great, but don’t waste your time, a stamp, etc. sending it to me, because I simply won’t know what to do with it. There are agents for everything; you just have to look.

Chris: Can you describe what the “courting process” is between an agent and a writer? Any stories from personal experience you care to share?

Carrie: Well, I like flowers, chocolates, and Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi (you laugh, but it’s REALLY hard to find here!). But seriously, what you can expect is that you’ll query an agent, he or she will get back saying to send the full manuscript, or that it simply isn’t a good match. Once you’ve sent the manuscript: be patient. We read so much that to think you’ll get a response in a few days just isn’t reasonable. That’s not to say that you can’t ever follow-up with an agent, but I really wouldn’t suggest doing it before a month has passed. If I like your work, I’ll likely contact you with questions like, “Are you open to edits?” and give you a basic idea of what I’m thinking. Then, once we both decide that we’re on the same page, I’ll make an offer of representation and hope that you’ll accept! I suggest always mentioning in a query if you’re giving an exclusive look or whether you’re querying other agents, which of course is totally fine. I expect that you’re going out to several agents at once, because it does take time, and you don’t want two years to go by before you find an agent. If you do receive an offer of representation, get in touch with those other agents. Don’t simply fall off the radar. If an agent has taken the time to read your work, do the polite thing and let them know that you’ve had an offer. This also gives the agent a chance to offer you representation as well, and you may find that the second or third offer is actually a better fit. And it should be a good fit on both ends, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ideally, you’ll have one agent for your entire career, so choose wisely!

Chris: There are some predatory types out there in Internetland, folks who promise the sun and moon in addition to publication. How should writers protect themselves? What should they be looking out for?

Carrie: I’m not sure where all the modeling analogies are coming from, but a friend once told me that the answer to this question is akin to how to deal with the guy at the mall who says he can make you a model, but that you have to pay him thousands of dollars upfront. A real agent will never (ever) ask for any kind of money from you. We can’t. We’re bound by certain rules laid out by the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) that dictate these things. It says we can’t charge reading fees, for example. However, not all agents are members of the AAR, so that’s always a good thing to check. If they’re a member, you know they’re in good standing, and can generally be trusted. Of course the best way to protect yourself as a writer is to, again, do your research. See who else they represent, or what other authors the agency represents. Does the agent/agency have a good track record and a solid list of authors? Our agency has been around for over forty years, and we represent some of the top writers in the world. Our reputation is very important to us, as it is to the editors we work with, and the authors we represent. An agency with a good reputation is so important, because they are your image to the world. Go with someone you’d be proud to have represent you.

Chris: What do you read–genres, formats, etc., as well as specific writers, publications, etc.–when you’re not wearing your agent hat? Do you ever not wear your agent hat?

Carrie: This is sort of like that music question. “I listen to a little bit of everything—except country.” That’s true for me, except that I also love country. (Dolly Parton, anyone?) That is to say, while I have my favorites, I try to read a little bit of everything. I’m not sure that I’m ever ‘not wearing my agent hat.’ But I think a good agent should read everything. I believe that you have no room to judge a book or a writer you haven’t read. So, while I’m always drawn to literary fiction, it’s what I love, I also read the more commercial books that tend to show up on the New York Times Bestseller list. As an agent, it’s important for me to know what’s selling, and why.

Chris: Why in the world would you say yes to a weekend with us here? Are you insane?

Carrie: I asked an agent friend to answer this question for me and his response was, “my best friends would happily agree that I’m insane.” Haha. Thanks so much, Chris! I hope all this is helpful! I’m really looking forward to the conference!