It was an unusually frosty day for WOTS – the last few years have been sunny and hot, so much so that, when you sat down to eat your souvlaki or samosas or Thai food lunch, you’d be swarmed by pesky yellow jackets. Not this time.

The tents full of children’s books were located right by the Royal Ontario Museum, close to the subway stop and Bloor Street, which must have been convenient for the parents chauffeuring their kidlets in mammoth strollers. Not sure about the reading abilities of the scores of large and small dogs (a trio of whom sported grey hoodies) or why their owners/human companions would think that having their pooches in the midst of thousands of people-legs would make any sense…

The first session I attended was on How Not to Get Published, with Mike O’Connor from Insomniac Press and Janice Zawerbney from Thomas Allen & Son. Here are some of their talking points:

Books have to be sellable. This is a business!

Be realistic – don’t just send out 18 queries or synopses and wait for someone to get back to you – it won’t happen.

The trap many emerging authors are falling into today is, once they have either been rejected or have received no responses to queries, they decide to self-publish. Those publications fail for the same reason a mainstream publisher has not picked them up – they have not been polished, there is not much of a story, few readers will be interested in that particular approach or content, etc. Self-publishing can work to build a readership – but you have to be able to demonstrate that the numbers are there.

There’s a bit of a Catch-22 for new authors today. Publishers and Agents are looking for track records – publications and sales – but if a writer has not been published, what do they have to show?

Publishers do not have the time or staff resources to deal with poor quality work. Edit, edit, edit. Before you submit, follow a professional process to ensure that it has been properly edited, designed, that there has been critical feedback from neutral readers, that a marketing plan has been drafted.

It’s getting tougher for agents to find publishers, in part because of shifts in the industry and greater concentration in fewer companies. There are a finite number of publishers with an interest in specific genres of writing, so finding the right fit will be a tough slog.

Writers have to ‘get out there’ and make connections – be methodical about the contacts you make, do your research, – read in public, submit, publish short stories and essays to gain a profile. Potential publishers have to know that you exist. You have to be adventurous! Writers must become their own marketers, and establish a plan for where they want to go with their work. In other words, they have to develop a studious, ambitious plan and not expect someone else to tell them what to do.

Authors must do their research to identify who will be interested in their work – by topic, readership, awards potential. It helps to quantify the answers. There has to be sufficient weight to these factors to make publishing worthwhile.

Know what other published authors’ books your work is like, so that the reviewer has a sense of what they are reading and how it might fit in their portfolio. Ask if your work makes sense as part of their publishing program and does it have the potential to make money?

For non-fiction – the subject matter is critical. Is it topical, can you get recommendations from other authors or recognized ‘names’ in the field? At that point your manuscript could be considered ‘solicited’, if someone who is published/known endorses it. Get articles published in small presses, magazines, journals. Build an audience because you have expertise. Check bookstores and online for the subject-matter you propose to write about to see what the competition is or if there is a niche to be filled.

Blogging – people will not buy a book made up of content that is available free. Any kind of writing is good experience, so look for opportunities to ‘write beyond the blog’ with fresh content or your unique voice. Developing a readership through electronic media is becoming more important.

Cover letters – keep them interesting and make them useful. Stick to the facts – who you are, your writing experience, education, where you have been published previously, describe what you are submitting (don’t be coy), give the title and the genre and a brief explanation of why you are sending it in (it fits with the publisher’s stable, it fills a niche, it is a new concept related to ABC, etc.) This lets the publisher know that you’ve done the groundwork.

Most of all…join writers’ groups, network, get out of your office and talk to people. You never know who might lead you to the place where you need to be. Selectively attend workshops and conferences. And keep writing and honing your skills.