Category Archives: 2011 Summer Conference

Conference Attendee Checklist

A handy checklist for attendees of this weekend's 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference.

  1. If you've never been to the conference, check out the Conference First Timers Guide for some handy tips.
  2. Remember to bring material to pin to the Writers Wall, be it poetry or prose. Remember not to put your name on the Writers Wall material.
  3. Remember to bring material to read in the People's Choice competitions on Friday or Saturday, be it poetry or prose.
  4. Remember that name badges are required in order to attend workshops, so that will help in knowing who people are in all the activities. This year we've chosen the much-requested hanging badges instead of the pin-style so they won't snag clothes, so this will make them easier to wear.
  5. Remember to bring something to donate to the silent auction. People have brought books, crafts, jewelry, art, sculpture and many other kinds of things. If it looks interesting, chances are it will do well. If you don't have something already, maybe ask a local business to donate something. WV Writers can send them a tax receipt.
  6. Remember to bring a food item or drink item for the Reception Table in the Main Hall. This can be something home baked or store bought, like cookies, candy bar minis, doughnuts, or, God help us, something healthy like fruit. Chips, not so good. Likewise for drinks, a 12 pack of canned soft drinks or water is greatly appreciated. We'll have coffee and fruit/veggie trays on hand, but if you have healthy food you'd like to bring, that's always appreciated too. We like to have enough food and drinks on hand so there are refreshments throughout the weekend, so if everyone brings a food item and a drink item, we'll be good to go.
  7. If you have a cooler and ice you can loan us for the weekend please do bring it. We use them to keep the refreshment drinks cold.
  8. If you're doing a Pitch Session with Ben LeRoy or Katharine Sands, you might stop by the following address for some Pitch Session How To suggestions. (
  9. If you've registered for your room and meals with Cedar Lakes, be sure they have your meal choice for the Saturday evening banquet (baked steak or stuffed chicken). Every year Cedar Lakes has to spend countless hours calling people to get their choice.
  10. Check out the finalized schedule online for the latest changes, so you can plan your days accordingly.
  11. Remember to bring a hoodie, sweater or something warm to pull on, as it does get nippy at night. Similarly, a rain coat or umbrella would be good, as traditionally there is an annual torrential downpour at some point.
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How to Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference by Ben LeRoy, Tyrus Publishing

(This article was originally written by Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Publishing. Mr. LeRoy will be one of our featured guests at the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference.)

How to get the most out of a writing conference

Ben Leroy

Writing conferences can be a good opportunity for aspiring writers to learn about writing technique, get an understanding of the publishing business, and meet with agents and publishers. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your conference experience.

(1) Attend as many panels/workshops as possible. There are no excuses for sleeping in or catching any early lunch. You've paid your money to learn, you owe it to yourself to do it.

(2) Meet people. This isn't limited to just the panelists and lecturers, but also your fellow writers. It's a good chance to put together a writing group that will last longer than the conference. If it's a genre specific conference, you're even more fortunate-the people you're meeting like the same things you do.

(3) Remember that agents and publishers are people, too. If you've got a chance to pitch your project directly to a professional, don't be intimidated. It's just another person on the other side of the table. A relaxed and focused approach makes a much better lasting impression than a nervous rehearsed pitch. Also remember, that as people, agents and publishers may need private time or time with colleagues. If you see an agent eating lunch or in a conversation, you should respect her time and wait to approach her.

Get as much as you can out of the conference and remember always that publishing is a two-way street. Agents and publishers need new writers as much as new writers need agents and publishers. Write a good book, come prepared, and you'll have done plenty to distance yourself from your peers.

Best of luck!

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WVW Conference Vidcasts: Sarah Dooley

Continuing our vidcast series to whet appetites for the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference, we present a video of Sarah Dooley author of the book "Livvie Owen Lived Here," as she speaks at Texas A&M University-Commerce on Nov.4, 2010. Sarah will be conducting two workshops for us at the 2011 Summer Conference. She will also be a guest on this coming weekend's WV Writers Podcast.

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Q&A with Literary Agent Katharine Sands, by Belinda Anderson

(The following article featuring a q&a with Katharine Sands was conducted by writer Belinda Anderson exclusively for the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference. Katharine Sands and Belinda Anderson will be featured presenters at the conference this year.)

The workshop description for “The Reinvented Writer” sounds promising to writers seeking publication: “ … what to do – and what not to do – when you set out to win a literary agent.” Even better, the presenter, literary agent Katharine Sands, will accept pitches from the attendees of this year’s West Virginia Writers’ conference.

Sands, from the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency in New York, also will participate in a panel discussion, “Secrets of the Trade,” about attracting agents and publishers.

She learned of the conference through a familiar WVW conference figure, agent Christine Witthohn, whom she met at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. “Christine recently sold five debut novels in as many months,” Sands says. “This underscores my core belief that there is talent everywhere, and I am happy to scour the country looking for it!”

Why you? Why now? Those are the questions writers should be ready to answer in a pitch, which Sands compares to speed dating. “The best pitches give off sparks, create a moment, or pose a provocative question, just to give a taste of the project,” Sands wrote in a recent blog.

In her book Making the Perfect Pitch, Sands expands upon the concept: “Writing is solitary, publishing is collaborative. The key point is to understand is that you want to get others excited about what is exciting to you.”

Sands offered in Writer’s Digest etiquette advice for in-person meetings: “At a conference, many writers react badly to being critiqued. If you are ready for an agent meeting, steady yourself for the hot seat. Best use of the time is to understand where and why the agent suggests next steps about what to do before readying for publishers, and to listen to feedback that is valuable (whether or not it's agreeable).”

Writers also need to be prepared with a platform. Sands, in an article for The Writer, explains the term platform as a promotional plan that sets the stage for a book to reach as many readers as possible. “It’s comparable to running for office; you must ask for their votes,” she says. Here’s a portion of a checklist she prepared for The Writer:

  • Do you write regularly for magazines, newspapers or journals in which you can promote your book?
  • Do you have access to academic of other venues where you can give a lecture related to your topic?
  • Do you have a Web site where you can promote the book and answer questions related to the book’s topic?
  • Do you have avocations, hobbies or other interests related to your book? If so, can you write an article for its magazine or newsletter?

In her WVW workshop, “The Reinvented Writer,” Sands will go into more detail on how writers can succeed in the new media and literary marketplace, focusing on both craft and career. She promises seven surefire techniques to get a manuscript out of the slushpile.

Various web sites cite particular categories of interest to Sands, but she says, “When it comes to working with writers I do not like to limit my thinking. When writers ask me what I might be looking for in a client, I always say 'fire in the belly' because as a writer you must always be an impassioned ambassador for your book.”

Sands offers reassurance to writers who worry about the turmoil in the publishing industry and wonder what the consolidation of publishing houses and the growing electronic alternatives mean to authors’ futures: “My advice to writers is not to become too focused on industry trends, and how conglomerates (The Big Six) are operating....I think this is less useful for writers than many agents might suggest.

“Deal points and new editor hires are the agent's job to follow, not the writer's. It will not make your writing more interesting to understand the complex structure of a publishing behemoth (which is nearly impossible anyway), and this tends to steer newcomers in all the wrong directions. Why? Because an agent/editor is evaluating your ability, not your knowledge of the industry. And each author's how-I-got-published story is specific to that author's project and circumstances of the sale/publication.

“The fast-changing landscape of publishing affects authors, of course, but writers will always need to approach the literary marketplace with an entrepreneurial spirit and boundless optimism, tempered with an eye on what is relevant to what they uniquely offer.”

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Interview with Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Publishing

(This is the extended interview conducted by Geoff Fuller with publisher Ben LeRoy. Mr. LeRoy will be one of our featured guests at the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference.)

We’re pleased that Benjamin LeRoy, an acclaimed publisher and writer, will be on the faculty this year at the West Virginia Writers annual conference in June, where he will share his experiences with writing and publishing. In 2001, LeRoy founded Bleak House Books, which specialized in crime and dark literary fiction. He sold later sold Bleak House to Big Earth Publishing in 2005 and went on to found Tyrus Books with Alison Janssen. Bleak House continues as an imprint of Big Earth and Tyrus now publishes 15-20 books a year.

LeRoy was cited by Publishers Weekly in 2008 in their “Fifty Under Forty” series for the novels he has published with Bleak House. Together, books published by Bleak House and Tyrus have won or been nominated for many crime fiction awards, the Edgar, the Shamus, the Anthony, and the Barry among them.

On the Publisher’s Marketplace website, LeRoy writes about what he is looking for in novels submitted to Tyrus:

We publish books that usually involve a crime. Most of those books feature protagonists who are pretty much regular folks who get their world turned upside down by the violence of unexpected situations.

More than likely you won't find a kung fu expert, a super intelligent spy, a Mafia boss, a police detective, or a doctor bent on saving the world in any of our books.

We believe the power in books lies in their ability to transfer the human condition from author to reader. An insight into life. A feeling of being less alone in the world. All of that, no doubt, sounds pretentious, but it doesn't change the facts of the matter—that's what we publish.

In his copious free time, LeRoy is working on a novel, and as part of The Bagmen Collective, he is contributing to several media projects that mix words, audio, and video. Despite his busy schedule, LeRoy recently agreed to a brief discussion of his publishing efforts with Geoff Fuller, longtime member of WVW.

At Tyrus Books, you’re looking for crime novels that deal with “crime and its repercussions.” Put aside for a moment the usual potential repercussions of crime in crime fiction—police, lawyers, jails, and so forth. What other types of repercussions that turn up in manuscripts submitted to Tyrus most interest you?

As off point as it may be, I’m rarely interested in the whodunit or the forensics of solving a crime. I care more about the survivors and the peripheral characters at the heart of any jarring crime. We’ve seen so much television, watched so many movies, that by the end of the first act we have a feeling of how things are going to go—the bad guy will be busted, the good guy will triumph, justice will be done. And that’s all well and good from a macro point of view, but what about the fringe characters? What about the family of the perpetrator? The family of the victim? How are those people going to get up in the morning after the fire has burned out and the smoke has cleared? That is the kind of thing I’m fascinated by.

What types of repercussions in stories that have been submitted to Tyrus have most surprised you?

One of the more heartbreaking examples would be in Lynn Kostoff’s novel, Late Rain. The novel’s central crime is the murder of a soft-drink mogul. The reader knows the perpetrator right away because there’s a witness to the crime. Unfortunately, that witness has Alzheimer’s and he’s unable to pull the details together for the cops. What sort of hurt is there when the possibility of closure is right there but thwarted by the ravages of old age—a familiar enough issue that we all have to deal with at some point in life. What happens then? What if it isn’t ever clean?

Tyrus Books is named for Tyrus Raymond Cobb, who played professional baseball from 1905 to 1928. In one of the regular commentaries you write for the Huffington Post, you said that he was one of the “guideposts” you use when you evaluate fiction. How so? Can you elaborate on how Ty Cobb—his life, the way he played baseball—helps you choose fiction?

Cobb casts a large shadow on my life, not simply for his exploits on the baseball diamond (arguably the greatest player of his generation), but for the way he can’t be synthesized into any particular box. Great baseball player? Yes. Societal malcontent? By most accounts, yes. A player like Cobb, no matter how skilled, would never be celebrated in today’s media world based on even a tenth of the things he was accused of doing off the field, and in some cases in the stands.

He played the game and lived his life with great passion and seemingly without apology. Many people are inspired or work hard at their craft, Cobb took that to a different level. I don’t know how much of it is now just the product of apocryphal legend, but the general story is that Cobb lived the way he did because his father told him to “never come home a failure” when the younger Cobb set out to play minor league baseball. Before he could come home a baseball success, Cobb’s mother gunned down his father in either a deliberate murder or because she feared he was a prowler. The one person who could give Cobb validation was dead, and at his own mother’s hands. Can you imagine?

What length would any of us go to in search of validation when we know we can never have it handed to us? Some folks would give up. For others, it would only fuel the obsession. Cobb certainly falls into the second category, and he does so with great force.

So, on the one hand, he fills the role of a tragically damned character to me. The kind of person I’d like to read about—whose head I’d like to try occupying on the page. A person welded to family even under sordid circumstances. A person who can never escape the whispers and the gossip.

On another hand, I like the idea of such fierce determination when it comes to doing the things we love, even to the exclusion of what would otherwise be considered a normal life. You can see that kind of thing in a person’s eyes. It means taking chances. It means that sometimes people might think you’re crazy, but you move forward at full speed.

That being the case, I feel like we take on books that might otherwise get passed over. If I wanted to make it more dramatic than it really is, I’d say that’s part of the parallel. We publish, without apology, books that are great but outside of the conventional commercial lines. The way that makes it sound, it’s terribly more outlaw than it is, but a book, for instance, like Angela S. Choi’s debut, Hello Kitty Must Die, was an obvious choice for us, but it was a book that had been passed on by NYC. When it made Los Angeles Times’ book reviewer Sarah Weinman’s best of 2010 list she said:

Nobody but Tyrus Books could have published Choi’s debut, which has one of the most memorable opening chapters I have ever read. But who cares if the majors didn’t want to touch HELLO KITTY with a hundred-foot pole, this book has its audience - and I am certainly among the enthusiasts. Again from my LAT column: “The real triumph of HELLO KITTY MUST DIE is that it refuses to apologize for Fiona’s behavior and never offers clear-cut explanations for her pole slide down into amoral adventure.”

You have cited the memoir Shot in the Heart, by Mikal Gilmore, which is about his family, including his brother Gary, as another one of your guideposts for evaluating fiction. Heart is nonfiction. Can you name three novels that are wrenching in the way that Heart is and best exemplify the type of crime fiction Tyrus is seeking?

I can’t name three novels that are wrenching in the way that Shot in the Heart is. That’s my mission as a publisher—to find fiction that extolls the near physical trauma of a book like Shot in the Heart. It may be that it’s impossible to write fiction that resonates in the same way, but I feel like the quest to find it is the more important takeaway for me. It’s precisely the type of digging and exploration of ourselves and those around us that Mikal Gilmore does in that book that fascinates me about characters in novels. What happens when we are on the sidelines of such profound events, but irrevocably handcuffed to them?

You have said that you can evaluate a book within the first paragraph or two. Maybe not to the point of being able to tell whether the book will be perfect for Tyrus but certainly when a book will be completely wrong for Tyrus. Can you put your finger on some of the qualities that cause you to reject submissions quickly?

I don’t know that I can. Vaguely, I could say things like—getting a sense that the author is more concerned with a pretty sentence than getting the hell on with the story, BUT, there might be a turn of phrase on the first page that tells me, on some level, that the author knows exactly what he/she is doing, and that I’m going to want the book. I know it when I see it. I can point it out every time, but I can’t cite a rule.

If a book starts off feeling like the fade-in of a tv show or a movie, I’ll probably prickle at that. The world building is different. Again, it’s just something I sense that doesn’t work for me. Might still be right for others.

You stress in many places the importance of craft and strong writing to Tyrus, suggesting that good writing might even be more important than marketability. In an industry that often stresses high concept over good writing, that makes Tyrus unusual. First, is it true that you are more interested in the literary than the commercial qualities of a book? And second, have you ever regretted your commitment to craft?

I’ve never regretted commitment to craft, no. For me, I’ve come to peace with the fact that a book might sell in the marketplace or it might not—on some level that’s out of my control. Putting out a quality product is in my control. It’s what is expected of me as a publisher, and it’s what I expect out of myself. I want books that will stand the test of time. I don’t want somebody to be able to point to a shelf of books I’ve published and say, “That might have been good in 2011, but it’s terrible in 2021.”

There are certainly a lot of books that aspire to be “literary” that are little more than gratuitous exercises in authorial self-pleasuring. (Take that last sentence as a prime example.) There isn’t any reason why a book that we might call “literary” can’t also be a bestseller or commercially viable. What is its resonance and do people want that?

If the choice is—do I want a book that makes sense, is written without fat, and is emotionally engaging, OR do I want a book with six car chases, elaborate law enforcement scenes that don’t actually follow real life procedures, and unlikely love connections that result in lots of sex scenes, I’ll choose the first book. Obviously, there is a huge gray area to be considered when answering this question.

What makes Tyrus different than most other publishing houses?

I don’t know that I have an answer for that question—not a good one at least. I’d like to think that publishing houses are the reflections of the people running them and that the values and characteristics of those individuals come out in the books that get published. I know plenty of other publishing houses that are trying to figure out the human connection thing, and inevitably we all end up looking in different places.

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WVW Conference Vidcasts: Doug and Telisha Williams

Continuing our vidcast series to whet appetites for the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference, we present a sample of the music of Doug and Telisha Wiliams, our Saturday Night musical entertainment providers at the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference.

Doug and Telisha produce music firmly set within the genre of Americana, meaning it's a bit bluesy and folky and all around good. See more of them at their YouTube channel.

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WVW Conference Vidcasts: Conference Entertainment Sampler

Continuing our vidcast series to whet appetites for the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference, we present a two part sample of our conference entertainment. First up is a sample of the music of the amazing Pops Walker. He's a three-time conference entertainer as well as the composer of the music we use in the WV Writers Podcast. His albums can be found at

Next up is former president Eric Fritzius doing a passable channelling of Garrison Keillor in a loose parody of the News from Lake Wobegon, a.k.a. the News from Cedar Lakes. This was produced as part of the Friday Night Entertainment in 2010, which was themed as A West Virginia Writers' Home Companion.

Tune in tomorrow for a look at THIS year's Saturday Night Entertainment musicians, Doug and Telisha Williams.

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