Pitching to Literary Agents

20160820_092501Five of us Beyond-the-Lamppost writers attended last Saturday’s Toronto Writing Workshop in where we pitched our stories to several literary agents who were attending the conference. There were eleven literary agents there:

Marisa Corvisiero of The Corvisiero Agency
Moe Ferrara of the Bookends Literary Agency
Chris Bucci of The McDermid Agency
Cassandra Rodgers of The Rights Factory
Ali McDonald of The Rights Factory
Olga Filina of The Rights Factory
Rachel Letofsky of The Cooke Agency
Ellie Sipila of_____
Sue Miller of the Donaghy Literary Agency
Stacey Donaghy of the Donaghy Literary Group
Veronica Park of the Corvisiero Literary Agency

We all did 1-2 pitching sessions each. The results were better than we expected:

1 request for a full manuscript
Several requests for partial (50 pages) manuscripts
High interest in the pitched novel with a request to send query and first chapter once it’s been
Edited to required word count
Solid advice on the pitched query
Solid advice on the pitched story and how to make the plot even more exciting

It was worth the fear, the anxiety and the wet armpits. In the end, I think we all figured out that literary agents aren’t the demons we made them out to be in our minds, but were human beings just like us. And if we talked and behaved in our natural way, good things would come.

The excitement has come, the fulls and partials sent out but the work is not done. They could still be rejected and no offer of representation offered. So, as every writer knows – keep plugging away at sending out the queries and Write On.


Beginner Writer Excuses

Credit: writersark.net

Credit: writersark.net

Many, many people want to write. They want to be novelists. They want to be published – especially when they hear that you are writing/have written/are published or are going to be published. They engage you in conversation, tell you their plans, but invariably end with excuses as to why they can’t actually write.

Beginner Writer Excuses

Credit: alexstechthoughts.com

Credit: alexstechthoughts.com

I don’t have time
I don’t have any ideas or imagination
I’m a terrible writer with no grasp of grammar or spelling
I hate reading

Hmm, this poses a major problem. A chef needs certain tools in order to cook. He needs the ingredients, he needs his utensils and pots and pans and he needs a recipe. Without them, it’s impossible to whip up a dish. He may have all the intentions in the world, but without those key elements, cooking up any dish is impossible.

So too is writing a novel. If you don’t have time, ideas, imagination, or the basic skills of grammar and spelling, then – like a chef needs to acquire his dish ingredients – you will have to acquire the tools of the trade. It’s not that difficult.

3 Steps for Beginner Writers

First – learn to like reading. It boggles my mind that someone who wants to write a novel doesn’t actually like reading! Why would you want to be a writer if you don’t like reading? I don’t care if you read Manga or Proust. In juxtaposition with this, learn some grammar and spelling. At the very least, use the spell check on your computer and get a good editor to go over your work.

Second – write a page every day (that’s just 250 words). It can be an observation, it can be a character sketch of someone you met or it can be a few lines of dialogue that you overheard. Do this everyday, and you will learn rapidly.

Third – take a writing class once you have begun writing and enjoying the exercise. Writing instructors will help you by giving you writing prompts, teaching you the basic tools of the trade and most of all – they are (or should be) great motivators. After each class, you should feel pumped and ready to sit down and write. If you don’t feel this way, look for another writing teacher.

Writing a novel is fun if you let your imagination run free. It can also be a great way to keep your mind active and meet a whole group of people with similar interests. Write On


Skilled Writer or Rambling Idiot

writerSkilled writer or rambling idiot? That is the question most writers ask themselves (or wonder) on completion of their first draft. Most writers write reams. They dawdle on parts that are dear to themselves, feast on platters of description that don’t necessarily go anywhere or do anything extra for the subject matter and stuff the first draft with adjectives, adverbs and countless exclamation points.

draftPut your draft aside for a few weeks and return to it and you would well ask yourself – “Skilled writer or rambling idiot?” Those words and phrases that were perfect pearls now appear phony. This is when a good critiquing eye comes in. If you are part of a critiquing group or are taking part in a writing class (especially one like Beyond-the-Lamppost where you present your work every week) your peers will be able to cut the extraneous bits that you find difficult to. If more than one person zones in on an area, have a good look at that paragraph, sentence or character. It is a problem and you need to fix it.

Beyond-the-Lamppost classes are small (never more than 8-10) so everyone gets a load of attention and heavy feedback. Each week, you send in 1,500 words that are critiqued by all members of the group. Lots of hard work, but lots of fun.

FALL 2016 – 12-week Writing Classes

Creative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Sept 27 – Dec. 13 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Sept. 28 – Dec. 14 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Thursday afternoons Sept. 29 – Dec. 15 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Fee: $160 for 12 sessions – To register and for location details, email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com


Pitching to a Literary Agent

conferenceIn a couple of weeks, I’m attending a writing conference in Toronto – the 2016 Toronto Writing Workshop where I’ll be pitching my novel A COCONUT MOON to two literary agents: Rachel Letofsky of The Cooke Agency and Sue Miller of Donaghy Literary Group.

 I know my story is good. In my mind, that’s a given. I just need someone who has the ability to get me published in the traditional press to listen to my spiel. But here’s the rub – for a person who can talk to the walls, I’m terrified. To my ears, my pitch sounds canned, my voice sounds phony and I feel like I don’t know what I’m saying or do.

Why? I don’t know. They’re people after all, aren’t they?

 I’ve written out my pitch. I’ve changed it, I’ve overhauled it, I’ve re-written it about five times and I’ve tweaked it a thousand times. Reading it with my eyes, it sounds great. It’s got humour and personality stamped all over it – and that’s exactly what I wanted.

The problem is the human factor. There’s a real live person out there that I have to convey myagent story to and writers – well, we like to write. We feel more comfortable writing our stories, not talking about them.


  • What’s your hook?
  • What makes your story stand out?
  • Pull out the most exciting part of your story and create a logline (one sentence) with it.

Time your pitch to be about three minutes long so you have time to ask the agent a few questions and time to talk to her about yourself and some of your writing accomplishments if you have any.


 You can use the time to pick her brain about your book or any other story you may have. It’s your time. Use it wisely.


Inciting Incident in a Novel

lucyThe inciting incident
is probably the most important part of your story. It propels your protagonist off on his or her path and gives the novel its raison d’être.

The inciting incident is the event that throws the protagonist’s
world out of balance and sets the story in motion. The plot is trying to get the balance back.

2016 Fall Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced
Creative Writing 101 – Sept. 27 – Dec. 13 in Oakville 
Crafting Your Novel – Sept. 28 – Dec. 14 in Oakville 
Crafting Your Novel – Sept. 29 – Dec. 15 in Oakville 
For more details email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Knowing where to start your story is crucial. Inexperienced writers start with backstory and that is a fatal mistake. The reader will get bored quickly. Starting in media res is the best way to get your plot off with a bang. It means immediately plunging your hero into a crucial situation or in the middle of an action scene and then having him figure out how to extricate himself from the mess he finds himself in. Of course, the worse the situation, the better your novel will be

Here are other ways to conceptualize the inciting incident:

  • it jolts your hero out of his everyday routinepunch
  • it is the event which sparks the fuse of your plot
  • it’s something that MUST happen in order for your protagonist to do, or go, wherever she has to
  • what is at stake?

Who is involved in the inciting incident?

The story is all about the protagonist and his/her journey so the inciting incident must involve the hero of the story. Sometimes, as in a murder mystery, the victim may be introduced first but make sure the hero is presented as quickly as possible so that the reader can become invested in the character.

The inciting incident does not have to be a negative thing like a murder: life can be unbalanced
by winning the lottery or having a baby. It just has to be vitally important to the character. This is totally subjective – it has to be important only to the character, not necessarily to anyone else. It must be personal. Also, the inciting incident cannot happen offstage. The protagonist must be aware of it.

A story is about something happening to someone. If nothing happens, you don’t have a story – you just have description. Stories do not have to begin with the inciting incident but it should be foreshadowed. You can bring it in when the time is right, but it is best if you do it as early as possible especially when you are a new writer.

Example of inciting incidents:

Wizard of Oz – The tornado that takes Dorothy out of Kansas and into Ozoz
Legally Blonde – When Warner dumps Elle instead of proposing to her as she expected
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – When Lucy hides inside the wardrobe
Hunger Games – When Katniss volunteers to be in place of her sister at the games
Star Wars – When Luke receives Princess Leia’s message in R2D2

Do you know what the inciting incident in your story is?


How to Create a Plot

No plot, no story – so how do you create a plot?

LAST CALL FOR 6-WEEK SUMMER WRITING CLASS IN OAKVILLE Wed. afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10)For more details email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

The first and most important aspect of a plot is, of course, the germ. You have to have an idea. Without it, there can be no story. So, pre-supposing you have a wonderful light going off in your head here are ways to get you from point A (the beginning) to point Z (the end).

  • Take your idea and start at the end. Think about what the end of the story will be and work your way backwards. How does Hero or Heroine get to where they end up? This is called a reverse outline.
  • Key Moments – these are spikes in your plot where the suspense is heightened and things are going terribly wrong for the protagonist. You can have between five and ten of these for a novel, depending on how long your manuscript is. Write down the worst things that can possibly happen. The worse – the better. Shove those poor characters into the worst situations they can get into and then have them have the toughest time getting out.
  • Dot jot the beginning, middle and end. This only works if you already have a pretty good idea what your story is about. If you can set these three crucial parts in place, you’ll be able to figure out what hot spots your characters can get into. The beginning is your inciting incident, the middle is the escalating conflict and the end is the climax of the story.
  • Mind maps are a great way to brainstorm. Draw a circle in the middle of a blank sheet and shoot lines randomly out of it. In the center, mark your inciting incident and then brainstorm what horrible situations you can stick your unsuspecting characters in to. Have no mercy.
  • Let your characters talk to you. They can and will if you take the time to listen.
  • Write a synopsis. Like the beginning, middle and end – this only works if you know the complete arc of your story.

Boring Writing

boringWe’ve all read books with boring writing. For myself, I love such books. They give me hope. If writers such as these can somehow get published, then – there is hope for myself and all the other good writers out there. All we need is perseverance and the ability to find the right literary agent to champion our book.

What is Boring Writing?

Sure, you can recognize boring writing when you read it. It’s the type of stuff that makes your eyes close and is way cheaper and better for you than sleeping pills. But how can writers recognize whether their writing is boring or not? Here’s what to look for:

Hackneyed, Overworked Plots – these are the ones you’ve seen done over and over again. While there are only so many plot structures to go around, it is our job as writers to see  how we can refresh these plots, and re-work them so they are fresh and unique.

mad scientistStereotypes –  think the smart-mouthed detective, the Pretty Woman hooker, the mad scientist. What can we do to rescue these characters from their cliched existence?

Soul-searching – yeah, yeah, all very well but thenavel reader can take only so much navel gazing. There is a time and place for introspection in your novel, but too much of it turns the reader off. Get of the stupid couch and do something for god’s sake!

Where’s the Action? – if your character has no objective and just sits on his butt and thinks, well – where’s the story? Readers want action from their characters: they want to vicariously live and enjoy what they can’t necessarily do themselves. Give it to them or risk them tossing your book.

Crisp, Exciting Writing

The best way to ensure your writing is exciting, dynamic and has that un-put-downable quality is to present your work in writing classes or writing groups that you know will give you honest feedback. Family members don’t count – they like you too much to give an honest opinion!


6-Week Summer Writing Class

summerJoin this short 6-week summer writing class to:

  • Progress rapidly in your novel
  • Have loads of fun
  • Write in a supportive and friendly environment

Beyond-the-Lamppost Classes are small and intimate – never more than 8-10 per session. 2 SPACES STILL AVAILABLE

Here’s what one of my new writers has to say about my classes:

“Bev creates an atmosphere in which you can generate your own best work.  She makes anything seem possible. It’s a gift, a presence she has. “– Sue S.

SUMMER 2016 – 6-week Writing Session for Beginners and Advanced

Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10)

Fee: $80 for 6 classes– To register and for location details, email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com


FALL 2016 – 12-week Writing Classes

Creative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Sept 27 – Dec. 13 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Sept. 28 – Dec. 14 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Thursday afternoons Sept. 29 – Dec. 15 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Fee: $160 for 12 sessions – To register and for location details, email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com




Adding Conflict to Your Story

conflictWithout conflict, a story would be a lovely collection of thoughts and words but going nowhere.

What is Conflict?

Conflict is a problem that faces the main character. How he or she solves this conflict is what makes your story juicy and interesting.

Conflict can be about multiple things. It can be about something physical as in having to give up a job, a house, a family, a lover. Or it can be about what a character values and then is taken away from them. How will they get it back?

 Such things as:cash

  • Money
  • Friendship
  • Marriage
  • Honesty
  • Eco-friendly practices
  • Veganism

Things of value don’t always have to have a monetary value. It can be someone’s good name, love and a good marriage as in Pride and Prejudice or the prospect of never going hungry again as in The Hunger Games.

Ways to Create Conflict for Your Character

  • Give him a clear objective. Then something or someone has to get in the way big time to prevent him from achieving that goal.
  • Macro and micro – by that I mean your main character has a macro goal – something big, but he must also have micro goals to get him to his intended objective and that will help you to increase tension throughout each chapter.
  • Failure is your best option – your character must fail repeatedly, then get up and try to obstaclessurmount the huge obstacles that block him every way he turns.
  • Let disagreements and misunderstandings The more confusion you can create for your character the better the conflict and the story will be.
  • Make the situation worse. Whatever is happening, just make it ten times worse. Whatever is happening must happen at the worst possible time in the worst possible way.
  • What does the person risk? Make sure it is terrible.

Readers are not interested in happy, boring lives. They want something to happen, they want drama. They want to see their hero conquer all odds and win. There has to be a big change from beginning to end.

Do you have conflict in your novel?


Setting and Location of Your Novel

alienOnce you have your unique idea for a story, you have to decide on setting and location. Where should your story take place? This is dependent on many factors, not least of which is what type of novel or short story you are writing.

  • Fantasy – you’ll need to build your own world with its own set of rules
  • Mystery/Romance/Contemporary etc. can be set in our own world … but where, and when?

Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10) For more details email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Setting your story in a city you know well and love always makes sense. You’ll be able to bring it to life and people who know it will be able to recognize it – always thrilling to recognize familiar landmarks in a book you’re reading.

Here’s a little exercise for those of you interested in trying your hand at writing. Choose one of the following prompts and write 250 words or one page about it. Let your imagination run riot. Send it to me if you like and I’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t. The worst thing you can do is think too deeply here. Enjoy the process of thinking anything is possible. If you enjoy writing the exercise, try the other prompts as well. You never know – you just might end up writing a short story or novel about it.

  1. A castle filled with ghostscreepy castle
  2. Your home when you were six
  3. A major city like New York or Los Angeles seen through the eyes of someone who has only lived in a small village or hamlet
  4. Earth if you were an alien
  5. The ocean as seen through the eyes of a mermaid

Instead of writing straight narrative description, try to look at the setting and location through the eyes of the person discovering the beauty or strangeness of the scene. Try and become the person, seeing the scene through that character’s eyes.