Categories: Entertainment

Publishing the printed word

Award-winning Edmonton author Malcolm Azania

Writing is an artistic expression that can change your life and build a thriving career. Nothing, except possibly a paycheque, gives a penman greater satisfaction than finding the perfect turn of the phrase.

But selling copy is a whole different game. In today’s Internet age where social media is running parallel to the print medium, and the rules of the game are constantly in flux, there’s a lot of uncertainty.

Enter the Get Publishing Conference coming to Grant MacEwan University on May 6 to 7, a biennial two-day event that provides direction and helps wordsmiths make those critical connections that land contracts.

This year’s theme, At the Edge of Print, is deliberately chosen to take into account new media, new genres, new opportunities says Get Publishing co-chair Peter Roccia.

“We’re playing off the word ‘edge.’”

Participants get to schmooze and network with an umbrella group of print and social media writers, editors and publishers during 10 workshops and panel presentations. In addition, there is a pitch camp where delegates can book a focused, one-on-one, 15-minute meeting with publishers, editors, an agent or a radio producer.

“The goal is to give writers practical tools to take their work from a manuscript to published material. One of the major things we have been trying to address is a need we don’t usually see in other conferences — the first principle of practical application. After you’ve written the manuscript, what do you do?”

That is the million-dollar question that has stymied generations of writers. It’s also the same question that plagues big publishing houses stacked high with slush piles of unsolicited scripts.

Kicking off the conference Friday night is Andrew Steeves, publisher of Gaspereau Press. Through the magic of technology, he will be speaking live from Kentville, N.S. Steeves will give a virtual guided tour of the hand-cranked presses that printed the 2010 Giller Prize winner, Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists.

The small publishing house, which crafts each book in a traditional, artistic fashion one book at a time, caused some shock in the industry after Skibsrud’s win. With the capability of printing a maximum of 1,000 books a week, the boutique press faced huge challenges in meeting the explosive demand.

“Although they partnered with other small publishers to print paperback copies of The Sentimentalists, their philosophy is to think of books as objects of art, and they put time and effort into a book.”

At the other end of the spectrum is internationally acclaimed, award-winning Edmonton author Malcolm Azania, a.k.a. Minister Faust, the keynote speaker for Saturday morning. Both a witty and edgy writer and broadcaster, Azania has developed a unique style in writing, in social networking, in multi-media and spotting the next big thing.

Rounding out the conference is an impressive list of workshops and panel presentations that range from e-publishing and science fiction writing for youth to new trends in magazine writing and 21st century publishing.

Some of the speakers include former Edmonton Journal food writer Judy Schultz; journalist, freelance writer and award-winning poet Alice Major; general manager of NeWest Press Paul Matwychuk; novelist Thomas Wharton; and associate publisher of Venture Publishing Joyce Byrne.

One highlight is Pop Culture Confidential, a panel discussion that offers a sneak peak behind the curtain of comic books, computer games and fan sites. One of the more high-profile panellists is Edmonton-based Andrew Foley, co-author of the graphic novel Cowboys and Aliens. It was optioned by Hollywood and the movie, starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, is scheduled for release on July 29.

“The mileage I’ve gotten with the geeks I hang out with — just to say James Bond and Indiana Jones is in my movie is pretty cool,” laughs Foley, who started off as a visual artist before shifting to writing and editing.

All kidding and ego-patting aside, Foley’s screenwriting career has taken a huge leap forward. “Right now the industry is going through a contraction. There’s way too many people who want to do it.”

Going into the panel discussion, Foley is keen to impart the necessity for succinct writing and developing strong visual skills. “I just want them to be sure they understand what it’s going to take. It’s a lot of work, but not a lot of payback— at least in the early years.”

Just as Foley enjoys delivering 140-character bursts on Twitter, other writers are attracted to blogs. In Tales from the Blogosphere: Passions, Politics and Profit, three panellists and web experts share their experience.

Panellist Jennifer Cockrall-King is a freelance feature writer whose works have been published in Western Living, Alberta Venture, National Post, Canadian Geographic, Macleans and the Chicago Sun Times, to name a few. She created an urban agriculture blog www.foodgirl.ca to promote her writing.

“It’s a brand-building tool,” she says of the far-reaching network that promotes a two-way sharing of information.

Cockrall-King has been writing about food for 12 years, and later this year Prometheus Books will publish her book, Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution.

“It’s important to have a web presence. You need Facebook and Twitter to build your online community. That’s the key in getting a book deal. Editors want a ready-made audience. As a writer, you need to cultivate the audience and you need to do it in a genuine way.”

For Cockrall-King, the blog is comparable to a business card.

“In today’s market, you need to sell a proposal to a publisher. You need to sell ideas as well as creative output.”

The 21st century demands the industry shift gears and realign its perspective and approach to delivering information.

In closing Roccia says, “Think of yourself not just as a writer, but as an entrepreneur having a point of contact with an editor and to some extent getting what you deserve and getting creative control. See it as a whole rather than separate parts, and to some extent be on an equal footing with the writer, the editor, and the publisher — all at the table providing an overall view.

Conference registration is $295 and includes the Friday keynote speaker and Saturday events and banquet.

For more information www.getpublishing.ca/edge.

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.