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Stet | August 2016

01 Aug 2016 7:56 AM | Anonymous
Stet Newsletter
August 2016

Volume 35 | Number 8

Editor's Note

Stet Editor Cynthia TomusiakCynthia Tomusiak

When is a library not a library? When it is a presidential library! I had the opportunity to visit the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum during my recent visit to College Station, Texas. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of books would be ‘Presidential’. I did see some books that were part of the exhibits in the museum, but the library was off limits. At least for me. At least this visit.

Presidential Libraries are not libraries in the usual sense. They are archives and museums, bringing together in one place the documents and artifacts of a President and his administration and presenting them to the public for study and discussion. So, if I had been doing research and submitted a request, I might have gotten into the limited access, climate-controlled area that is the library.

The first presidential library originated in 1939.

The first presidential library originated in 1939. Franklin Roosevelt donated his personal papers, Presidential papers and land to the government for a library. In the past, President’s or their heirs, disposed of any documents from their term(s) in office. In 1955, an Act of Congress made Presidential Library’s official. The Act established a system of privately erected and federally maintained libraries. The documents are available to the public, they just have to be requested through official channels.

College Station is also home to Texas A and M University. The docent I talked to mentioned that some of the college students have a similar impression of the library as I did. They get quickly corrected as well.

G.H.W. Bush library by C. Tomusiak

The museum was very biographical, not only about the president but his family. It had a replica of the oval office, a restored 1944 TBM Avenger that was like the one Navy pilot Bush flew, his actual boat (Fidelity), many of the gifts of state the Bush’s received while in office and others. There was a traveling exhibit “Driven to Drive: Defining our Identity” that was interesting as well.

So, even without the library, it was not a wasted trip. I enjoy going to museums and learning from the exhibits. I enjoy learning more when I can see history come alive through displays, artifacts and presentations. And I learned the exact meaning of a presidential library.

If you would like to contribute an article to Stet or be featured in an upcoming IWOC member profile, contact me and plan to submit before the monthly deadline of the 15th. Thank you.

- Cynthia Tomusiak

August Meeting Preview

IWOCFest 2016!

Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at

It's IWOCFest at Pegasus!

Come for the Saganaki ... stay for the baklava!

No meeting. No note-taking. No learning allowed. Just a lot of laughing and enjoying summer up on the roof with a bunch of IWOC-ers (and you know how wild they can be!) - or friends of IWOC-ers. Whichever group you belong to, we'd love to have you.

So come for fun, fantastic food and a rooftop view that's almost as good as Greece itself. Almost. 

Here is all you need to know to get your Greek on:

  • Date:  Tuesday, August 9th
  • Time:  5:30pm start time
  • Where: Rooftop of Pegasus Restaurant in Greektown
  • 130 South Halsted, Chicago
  • Admission: $30 with online registration and payment with PayPal or credit card or...
  • $40 at the door, paid by cash or check. 

Either way you choose to pay, all must first register online.

(FYI: Cash bar)

Parking: Free valet. There's also a parking lot across the street. Public trans: Blue Line or #8 Halsted bus

RSVP: Register HERE by Tuesday, August 2nd, as Pegasus needs a week's notice for a head count. Looking forward to seeing you there!

(Okay, one more time:  Opaaaaaaa!!!!)

- Laura Stigler

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July Meeting Recap

Why Writers Need Literary Agents

Photo courtesy Abby Saul

Abby Saul, Associate Agent from Browne and Miller Literary Associates was the speaker. She has worked in publishing for over 10 years and she began the meeting with a run down of her typical day which included: contract negotiations for writer’s work; spoke with an editor at Simon and Schuster to check that a client’s manuscript was on the right path; read three manuscripts through the day; spoke with numerous foreign offices on rights to a client’s work; spoke with a client to talk them off the ledge of feeling that she couldn’t write; spoke with interns, who man the query inbox to see what new works have been submitted; drafted a sales pitch for a new book; resolved a contract with Showtime for another client and all of this was most likely before lunch.

She proposed three questions:

  • Why do writers need a literary agent?
  • What can an agent do for you?
  • How to get and work with a literary agent.

Why you need one? Literary agents are not publishers but they are the author’s representation in the publishing world. The agent receives 15% of the fees and handles chasing down the money for the authors while the author continues to write. They also work with contracts for book sales, international rights, audio books and any other pieces that will get the best deal possible for the author and their work. The writer can concentrate on their writing.

Another reason that an author needs a literary agent is because most publishers, especially the Big Five, will not look at un-solicited material. When it became viable to publish your own work that was a boon for writers but once a book is self-published it no longer becomes attractive for a literary agent.

How do you get an agent? For fiction pieces just go ahead and write the book. Once you’ve gotten your manuscript to where you would like it, be sure to have some trusted people read it over. Consider asking some people from this group (IWOC) as it’s best to have more eyes on the project than just yours before you send it out. Abby said that her agency is looking for works that aren’t perfect but are pretty close to perfect. So after you find a literary agent, they may want you to re-work your manuscript to make it even more perfect and ready to sell.

Another reason that an author needs a literary agent is because most publishers, especially the Big Five, will not look at un-solicited material.

For non-fiction work, the author does not have to have a full manuscript, as the agent would like to work with the writer along the way. The writer does have to have a full and complete proposal that includes a table of contents and all-encompassing description of each chapter. Also, why you are the perfect person to write this book.

How to approach an agent: The Query. This is the first step in presenting your work. But before you send your query be sure that the agency you are approaching handles the genre that you’re writing. This is most likely an email. Abby said that in the time she has been with Brown and Miller, they have rarely if ever moved forward on a project that came in a hard copy.

Compile a list of agents to see what styles the agents are seeking. There is a literary agent web site that will let you know who is looking for what type of work and what to send them - or twitter #mswl. There are names and contact information, plus the types of work they would love to receive.

Once you find the correct fit for your genre, Abby recommended going to the bookstore to see where your book would be located in the shelves. What two well-known books would you fit in-between? This extra step shows the literary agent that you understand the market.

Put as much effort into the query as you would in the manuscript. This is your sales tool to get the literary agent interested in your work. Don’t sell yourself short with a lame query. So take the time to write a good one. The first portion of the query is about the book and the second part is about the writer. For a work of fiction about 75% of the query is about the work and 25% about the writer.

What two well-known books would you fit in-between?

What if you don’t have a lot of credits as a writer? Abby said that was fine and you could just state that, “I’m a first time writer.” But be sure the portion about your work makes the agent want to read it. One of her suggestions was to write out your query and offer it up to someone who has not read your manuscript. After they’ve read the query ask them to tell you what your book is about. If they can do that from the query that’s great but if not you may want to re-write the query so that it’s the best advertisement for your work. There are a lot of on-line samples of a good query and a bad one.

A query for a non-fiction work should be half about the work and half about the writer. The literary agent wants to know what makes you an expert in this field and why you are the best person to talk about the subject. There are many examples on-line of good and not so good queries, so use those resources.

In this electronic age it is much easier to send out queries. So once you’ve done your research on who is looking for the work that you’re writing and your query is the best it can be then send out as many queries as you can. Rejection is one thing that will likely happen. But if you’ve been sending out queries for a good long time and all of the responses have been “no thank you”, you may want to check your list of literary agents, or maybe re-work the query, and possibly take a look at the book only as a last resort.

Also consider it might not be the work, it could just be timing. Abby suggested that if you’ve written a post apocalyptic teen hero, this might not be the time since there are a number of super successful books out on that topic. The cycle will come around again so you might have to wait for that.

When you do get a positive response from a literary agent the next step would be that the literary agent will ask for what they want. So if they ask for five chapters, send them five chapters. If you are the author of a fiction book and you are asked for the first five chapters and an outline of the rest of the book be sure that you in fact have the rest of the book. You are not doing yourself any favors faking on that one. Ms. Saul said that had happened to her when she got a query for a book then requested the chapters and outline but when she went back to the writer for the rest of the manuscript she was told the book was not complete. She then said that dreadful phrase, “I will never work with that writer.”

IWOC Members:
Click here to access the meeting podcast!

Now you’re nervous that you’ve sent out ‘a ton’ of queries and a literary agent says ‘I would like exclusive rights at this point’ what do you do? You can tell them ‘of course you can have exclusive rights’ so when another agent calls the next day about the work and wants the same thing what do you do? Well you need to be honest. “Someone has this manuscript exclusively and I will be in touch if that changes.” The answer could be “that’s fine but I want to see it anyway.” Agencies will be very clear what they want but you have to understand that as the writer you do hold a lot of the cards. This is a wonderful problem to have but all you need to do is be honest in what you’ve offered people.

A literary agent will also assist with your “Author’s brand” and what are the right next steps are for your career.

A question was asked about ‘breaking up with the agent’. Once you sign with an agent there is an agency agreement and typically the agent has two years to sell your book. If the agency hasn’t done so or you don’t feel connected with the agent you can move on to someone else. But once your book sells with an agent they are connected with the book for all time.

There was so much wonderful information given by Abby Saul, that you might want to take a listen to the entire pod cast.

- Francesca Peppiatt

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President's Column

The Real Work of Writers

David Steinkraus

Because it is the sweltering height of summer, I will not trouble you with a column that heats your brain on the inside. Likely the outside is hot enough. And with the quadrennial political conventions out of the way, I won't even talk about politics.

OK, OK, I cannot resist mentioning Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) because what he said impinges on our work as writers. On the first day of the GOP convention in Cleveland, during an MSNBC panel, he questioned the contributions of nonwhite people to human civilization. The predictable internet firestorm followed, but it started me thinking about language.

We are extremely fortunate to be English speakers because our language has spent centuries freely borrowing from other cultures. Were we not English speakers, we would have to resort to kludgy solutions.

We are extremely fortunate to be English speakers because our language has spent centuries freely borrowing from other cultures.

Germans sometimes stick a few known words together to create a different concept, so you spend half a minute parsing one 40-character word into its constituent words, and even then you may not understand what the writer is saying.

Instead, we are fortunate to have at our disposal terms borrowed from people around the world. Consider tsunami, sushi, yoga, khaki, jungle, karma, and bangle, all from Asia, or harem, bazaar, and chess from the Arabic world, or zebra, jazz, and yam from Africa, or avocado, tomato, canoe, and woodchuck from Native Americans. Without borrowing, you’re left with a German-like solution of combining a slew of inexact words into an inexact description. Describe woodchuck: brown furry rodent bigger than a squirrel that burrows. Now use that in a sentence.

“Abel, go out and shoot us one of them brown-furry-rodents-bigger-than-a-squirrel-that-burrows for supper.”

“Aw, Pa, ya know Ma don’t like the taste of brown-furry-rodent-bigger-than-a-squirrel-that-burrows if it ain’t soaked in vinegar for a day first.”

I have a problem with narrow views of culture, especially ours because it so clearly borrows from every part of the globe.

Although we manipulate words on the surface, as writers our real work is manipulating ideas, and we should be concerned about throttling the development of them.

The logical endpoint of a narrow mindset is English-language-only rules or the less belligerent Académie française, a committee of 40 writers and artists charged with protecting the purity of the French language from contamination by foreign influences. It can be bad enough to have other people deciding somewhat capriciously (that word comes from French capricieux, which took it from Italian, by the way) how everyone should speak, but the worse consequence is that dictating speech dictates thought because ideas are wrapped up in the words that describe them. George Orwell was not wrong when he had his fictional dictatorship edit the language in his novel 1984.

Although we manipulate words on the surface, as writers our real work is manipulating ideas, and we should be concerned about throttling the development of them. A broad choice of words means better ideas, and better words and ideas lead to better thinking. Without better words our world is narrowed and our thinking is weak, and ultimately the most extraordinary efforts produce nothing more penetrating than a brown-furry-rodent-bigger-than-a-squirrel.

- David Steinkraus

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Stewart Truelsen

Stewart Truelsen

How would you describe yourself? I like to think of myself as a versatile, creative independent writer and video producer. The creative part is especially important to my video work because no one has time to watch boring corporate videos any more. The script and the video content have to be interesting and very relevant to an audience. I have experience in radio, television, print and web content.

What is your specialty? I write mostly about food and agriculture and related public policy issues. I also like anything of a historical nature. I have a journalism degree and news background, so I like to think I can write about anything, but I have kind of fallen into a niche with agriculture, the environment and economy. I also produce videos for conventions and websites. In the past, I produced short documentaries including one that won a gold award from an international film festival.

What line of advice would you give a client working with a writer? Try to limit the number of layers of approval. I wrote textbook material for a client who moved the goal posts as we went along and had to get approval of my drafts from industry experts and a panel of teachers. Needless to say not everyone was on the same page with what they wanted.

I like being a writer because it fits well with my addiction to coffee and love of libraries and reading.

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you? The best advice I ever got about writing was based on observation. For six years, I worked for ABC Radio and was Paul Harvey’s news editor. Harvey had the largest national radio audience, and I marveled at his writing. He wrote sparingly and his style and delivery made a big impact on listeners. I learned to be a lot more concise.

What do you like most about what you do? What I like most is when a client is really happy with what I produce and gets a lot of positive feedback. I like being a writer because it fits well with my addiction to coffee and love of libraries and reading. I also like being part of a team. Oftentimes I work with a photographer, sound man and video editor. I’d like to collaborate with others in IWOC as well.

- Stewart Truelsen

Stewart can be reached on the IWOC website.

The questions for next month are: 1) How would you describe yourself? 2)What is your specialty? 3)What is the best advice anyone has given you? 4)In five years you hope to be….? 5)Who is the most famous person you have met? 6)What are your media consumption habits? If you have questions of your own you would like to answer, that is fine as well. Stay tuned!

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IWOC Board of Directors

David Steinkraus (President), Laura Stigler (Vice-president), Cynthia Tomusiak (Secretary), Brent Brotine (Treasurer), George Becht, Vladimire Herard, Tom Lanning, Jeff Steele, Karen Schwartz

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