The Inaugural Writing for Change Workshop (20th February, 2014 in Perth, Australia)

A few notes by Maarten van der Wall

The Setting:

In a magnificent old timber-lined room on the University of Western Australia Claremont Campus inPerth, on a typically hot summer’s day, fifty fellow travelers embarked on a journey of exploration to support the emergence of this Writing for Change collaboration with BK and its author community.

The People:
There to set the scene for the attentive audience were BK author Jennifer Kahnweiler, who was visiting from the US, local Perth writer and poet, Annamaria Weldon, and the facilitation team of Michael Prince, Renu Burr and Maarten van der Wall.

The First Conversation:
The first course of this writer’s feast was rich fare, as we enjoyed an exhilarating conversation between Jennifer and Annamaria, convened by Michael, during which they shared their wisdom and experience and responded with a refreshing honesty and clarity to questions from the audience.

 Opening a Space:
Following a very welcome mid-morning break for refreshments, and for some escape from the heat (our air-conditioning had taken an unfortunate break for the holidays), it was time for the audience to play its part.

 Maarten facilitated a series of Open Space conversations that were given depth and meaning by the wholehearted and thoughtful contributions of all concerned. They listened attentively to each other, were appreciative of the power of the spoken and written word in bringing about change and (above all) showed that they knew how to have fun while doing it!

And, for a few exciting and energy-filled hours together, we all enjoyed the experience of being part of the Writers for Change community!

What’s next?

Writing for Change is an emergent story in our West Australian context, as demonstrated by the number of people who attended the workshop and expressed interest in being part of this continuing narrative. With that clearly in mind, the organizers look forward to building a continuing and energizing collaboration with BK and its author community and to being an influential part of the local writing scene for many years to come.

Our Thanks:
We are grateful for the ongoing support and encouragement offered by Johanna Vondeling and the BK author community and for the provision of the venue by Terri-Ann White of UWA Publishing. And many, many thanks go to Gourmet Ganesha, Meenakshi Burr and Judy Shearwood for the wonderful refreshments.


Ten Lessons Learned at Forty-Four

I turned 44 some weeks back. Dammit.

I’ve come to realize that getting older, for me, is about recognizing that everything is ultimately about moving to the opposite end of your previous station. Here are ten examples:

1. When you’re younger, you never seem to gain weight, and if you do, you can lose it over a weekend. When you’re older, you can gain weight over a weekend and never be able to lose it.

2. When you’re younger, you dress down on week days and dress up on the weekends. When you’re older, you dress up on week days and dress down on the weekend.

3. When you’re younger, you dread having a weekend with absolutely no plans.  When you’re older, you cherish weekends with no plans.

4. When you’re younger, sleep is a necessary break in the path towards your goals.  When you’re older, sleep is the goal.

5. When you’re younger, you think you’re mature for your age.  When you get older, you realize how ridiculously immature you really are.

6. When you’re younger, you hate the boomers for "selling out." When you get older, have kids, a mortgage, health issues, and loans, you look everywhere for opportunities to sell out.

7. When you’re younger, your mind has to keep up with your body.  When you’re older, your body needs to keep up with your mind.

8. When you’re younger, you have a growing variety of friends with different personalities all across the world. When you’re older, you downsize your friends according to maintenance effort required and proximity of residence.

9. When you’re younger, you use facial hair and hairstyles to appear older. When you’re older, facial hair and hairstyles are to conceal the flaws of aging.

10. When you’re younger, you think people who are weird or eccentric are smart.  When you’re older, you realize that there is no correlation between weirdness and intelligence.


Six Things You Should Expect from Your Literary Agent

We’ve worked with several literary agents and agencies, and we have seen some exemplary agenting -- and some downright rotten practices as well. Here are six things you have the right to expect from your agent:

1. No requests for money up front
A proper literary agent asks for no money up front. We have heard of countless variations on the money-up-front scheme, including “administrative fees” and “reading fees” and such. We're not buying it. In the many years we’ve been publishing books, we’ve never dealt with an agent who asks for anything up front from authors. An agent gets paid only when you get paid. (And that cut is rarely more than the standard 15% in this industry.)

2. Success stories and greatest hits
We’ve seen too many authors who are just so happy for representation that they sign with an agent who really has no weight in the industry. It takes nothing to call yourself an agent. And there is no governing body, so authors need to do their homework and discern quality for themselves. Ask potential agents about their successes and bestselling books as well as what publishers and authors they’ve worked with. A good agent will always be forthcoming and may even let you speak to other authors he or she has represented.

3. An expiry date — just in case
Once you sign with an agent, you have given that agent the exclusive right to represent you and your work. You have to then trust the agent to place the work somewhere, but you also need to protect yourself in case your agent -- whom you are contractually obligated to -- isn't working too hard on your behalf. We’ve heard stories of authors who got so fed up with their agent not doing anything that they signed a contract from a publisher themselves, only to find out later that the agent, contractually, gets 15% of the take even if he or she did absolutely nothing. So be sure your agreement states that if a particular number of months pass with no offer of a contract, you have the right to dissolve the agreement with your agent.

4. Personalized representation by an agent who knows you
Whether the agent is a one-person operation (many great ones are) or part of a conglomerate, each agent represents a certain number of authors. You have the right to ask how many authors the agent is actively representing. This is a case where more is not better. Many agents will take on hundreds of authors and projects because they play a numbers game by throwing all the projects against the wall and seeing which one sticks. Usually, the more successful an agent is, the smaller the number of clients he or she will have (although the clients themselves will often be ridiculously high profile). But there are always exceptions to this rule, and there are no magic numbers here. Just be aware.

5. Bargaining on your behalf
Agents should bargain for the best deal for their client — not just for money and royalties but also for marketing budgets and ad placement and provisions like that. Sometimes, however, agents try to justify their role by overreaching and bargaining for rights that really aren’t in your best interests. So you’ll get an additional 30% royalty for Mongolian rights? Well, that’s lovely, but we’re talking about $12 or so — and that’s if someone in Mongolia wants your book. Why not haggle for a bigger ad budget instead? An agent should tell you what he or she is negotiating for and why.

6. A dissolution clause in your agreement
Your agent is your agent for the life of the book and will continue to get a 15% cut for that length of time. But even great friendships often end and sometimes author-agent partnerships also end. So be sure you have a clause in the contract that allows the two of you to dissolve the partnership without any financial backlash. Even famous authors have suffered without having these terms clearly defined in an agreement.