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My Takeaways From The Unicorn Writers’ Conference

By Susanne Marie Poulette

unicorn 004

It was another great conference this year.  Kudos to Jan Kardys, and all the dedicated organizers and staff of the Unicorn Writers’ Conference!  Now, my takeaways, as promised:

♦ Stephanie Evanovich gave the keynote address. She’s as funny in person as she is in print, a first class comedian with a drama background, and what a hoot.  Stephanie told about her path to publication, much faster than the typical book launch, but nothing to do with the surname she shares with her aunt, Janet Evanovich.  Although she hasn’t suffered the throes of years of rejections like so many of us, Stephanie made it clear that she understands the frustrations of trying to snag a book deal. Her message was one of encouragement.  She urged writers to persevere, to have confidence in their writing and in their voices, and resist giving up in the face of rejection.  She cautioned against reading one’s own reviews.  Stephanie EStephanie cited an example of a criticism made to her about point-of-view, saying that it threw her for a loop (my words, not an exact quote, but that’s the idea).  I admit that I had the very same experience in a writing group, that sent me reeling, but also sent me researching extensively.  I learned that some comments can be well meaning and helpful, but they can also be incorrect and derail the writing process.

Stephanie said each reviewer has their own opinion, and we can’t please them all.  The important thing is to keep writing and growing as a writer.  She gave big girl pantiesa great example of a poor review when someone apparently got caught up in a Tangle of Names.  The confused reviewer wrote that “Evanovich” should stick to writing about her long-time protagonist, Stephanie Plum—who, by the way, is the star of her Aunt Janet’s series.  So much for reviews, eh?  I do want to add that I just picked up Stephanie’s latest book.  I have this annoying habit of laughing out loud while reading, (it annoys others, not me) and this book doesn’t help me break that pattern.  If you like a good laugh, you’ll enjoy Big Girl Panties.


♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

♦ Beena Kamlani is a senior editor at Penguin Viking, an award winning author, and professor.  Due to a review appointment, I attended only the first half of her workshop on editing. How I wish I could have heard more.  I’d love to pop downstate to Hunter College and take her editing course.  She speaks beautifully about the art of writing. I’ll share my snippets:

Memoir: Never overextend the readers, let the book reveal your story, bit by bit. Immediacy is important, let readers drink it in, in the present tense. Make them see what you saw, and let your feelings for what you saw speak to them.

Fiction: Drop breadcrumbs for the reader and follow through with a reason for everything. Don’t reveal too much all at once. Dramatize, don’t tell everything. All dialog has to have a reason, but what characters don’t say is as important as what they do say. It heightens interest when the reader doesn’t know. Think about what makes you turn the page. Don’t refresh the reader’s memory, trust the reader to remember, and continue on with your story.

Click on the book for a video of Beena Kamlani describing how a developmental editor works with an author on the path to publication:

♦ Lane Heymont, literary agent and author, presented “World Building,” that is, creating settings.  He described the infrastructure of a story, creating a consistent society with norms, culture, and rules.  Setting needs a history to give the sense of its existence.  It should be realistic, using the five senses to build a unique world, but it has to make sense.  Share the world of your setting throughout the book, not all at once, and get to the action right away.

Lane suggests making a setting sketch and provided a downloadable handout for those who attended his workshop.  Since it’s out there on the web, it may be fair game if you want to take a peek:


Reid Castle, Unicorn Writers' Conference, August, 2015

Reid Castle, Unicorn Writers’ Conference, August, 2015

♦ Eliza Shallcross, author, editor, and copywriter with 30 years of experience, presented “Book Copy as a Marketing Tool.”  Before this workshop, I didn’t have a clue about “book cover copy,” or any of its numerous components.  Apparently, book cover copy services ( good tongue twister?) are part of the traditional publishing process, but I wonder how many self-publishing authors are aware of all the marketing factors involved in cover copy.  So what is it?  It applies to all types of books, hardcover, mass market paperback, trade paperback, and eBook. It’s everything that goes on a book’s front and back covers, and flaps.  It’s the artwork, title, tag line (short teaser), author’s name with photo and biography, quotes from reviews, story description, and more, all within word count limitations.  The book cover itself is the marketing tool, appealing to the reader and growing the author’s readership. Eliza Shallcross provides individual editing and copywriting services. You can find her at:


Sorry, but I’m hoarding the pearls of wisdom from my two excellent one-to-one manuscript review sessions (first 40 pages).  All kidding aside, the reviews were invaluable, and I’m hard at work making revisions based on their suggestions. The Unicorn Writers’ Conference provides these affordable, 30-minute sessions with agents, editors, and speakers.  I hope you can attend this conference and the review session opportunities next year.

© S M Poulette




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An Interview with Publishing Expert, Jan Kardys, Part Two



This is Part Two of our recent interview with Jan Kardys.  Peggy and I extend sincere thanks to Jan for her gracious interview, advice, information, resources, and for her generous gift of time in meeting with us.  We also thank her for treating us to a lovely lunch!   


Besides good writing and voice, what are you looking for right now that you’re not getting?

We should start at the beginning with query letters.  Many people don’t know how to write a query letter.  They might focus too much on themselves, and it’s not all about them… unless, for example, they’ve been published in magazines, or they want to tell how many blog followers they have for something they’ve written.  For fiction, it’s more important to give us the whole story.  The best way to put together a good query letter is to go on publisher’s websites, and look at how they do a summary of a book.  It’s very finely crafted.  Give us that information.  I find a lot of writers are reluctant about telling us what’s at the end of their book.  Well, I might need to know that, because a lot of stories are rehashes of everything else. 

We’re offended by spelling mistakes or by a letter that’s not organized, sort of a stream of consciousness.  A query letter that’s say, three or more  pages is too much.  Get to the point.  I usually give people the benefit of the doubt. 

I’m way behind on query letters.  It’s just overwhelming.  That’s why I only take on five or six clients a year, because as you can see, this has been a long journey. (She points to a client’s galley proof.) It’s taken over a year and a half for the author to get to this state stage. Now we’re in the beginning of the marketing stage.  A lot of writers don’t understand how much work we have to do, back end, just to get an author to this level.  So, the query letter is number one.

Then, for nonfiction, you should follow the rules for nonfiction book proposals.   Many nonfiction writers don’t follow the rules because they don’t know the rules.  Marcella Landres, who was senior editor at Simon and Schuster, put together a whole outline for everything you need to do to write a nonfiction book proposal.   She gave me permission to put that on my website, at and in our book, “You Wrote a Book, Now What?”

Manuscripts come in with no page numbers or no title-slash-author’s name.  There are certain things we need: page numbers, your name, and the title.  As you can imagine, if we decided to print out thirty pages, we’d probably have a stack.  If we lose track of one of the pages, without page numbers, we don’t know where the next page is… it’s extremely frustrating.  That really bothers me because it means the author didn’t even look up the rules for formatting a book.  I think writers should do a little bit of homework. 

Do you see a lot of that?

Yes! I see a lot of it… tons of it, and I’m not the only one.  My friends who are agents say the same thing.  To me, it’s just common sense to put page numbers on a manuscript, but so many people just don’t do it.


Can you talk a bit about platform and promotion?

For fiction, it’s not just about social media, it’s about writing a lot of articles. Become known.  Start networking with tons of writers in your genre. Read some of their books and write reviews, saying I’ll help you if you help me. You really have to network and try to do events. For example, if you write a novel, how many people are going to come to a library event?  Probably not a lot, so what I would do… let’s say you’re promoting a children’s book that you traditionally or self-published. Get forty children’s book authors, traditional or self published, and make an event for the town.  bk fairGet amusement rides, cotton candy, magicians… make it a huge event so that the whole town and towns nearby will write about it in their newspapers, and so that schools will know about it. The children’s book authors can each have their own booth, and that’s the way to really sell books.  The more people you get coming into these fun activities for kids, the more likely the parents will buy a book.  You can’t just do it by yourself; you have to help each other. 

For non-fiction: Enhance your website.  Put on the website really interesting things related to your content, so that it’s more than just about you and your book.  Be THE source to go to for your subject,…so that your website is filled with, for example, good images, useful information, descriptions, relevant customs or history.  

You can write to bestselling authors in your genre and ask for quotes.  But, the big authors can have contractual restrictions.  Some publishers won’t allow their authors to give a quote to someone else in their genre, because those authors are in competition with each other. They might be allowed to give a quote to another author in that same publishing house.  Publishers are very competitive. 


How does an author know when a manuscript is ready?

If you rush your book and your manuscript is not in good shape, but you think it’s ready, you need to get about twenty-five beta readers to be brutally honest.  That’s why I started the meet-up group.  We needed writers to read and listen.  They can be nice and diplomatic, but they have minet reading 001.JPG  fixed for blogto tell the truth.  There will be similarities, and if two readers say you need to improve your dialogue, then you’d better start listening.  You can’t trust your family or friends because they’ve heard about your book so much, that the characters now live in their brains. You need someone who can be totally objective and who will use their gut feelings and instincts.  

First, get to the core with your manuscript.  Don’t think that agents are going to give you direction, because they don’t have the time.  The big agents get so much material, they don’t have time to waste.  They want something special or different.  They don’t want another vampire book.  


An agent advised against starting a novel with divorce.  What’s your opinion?

I wouldn’t start a book with divorce…you know why?  It’s sort of a negative thing.  Why not start it with a beautiful love scene or a scene where the two met when they were falling in love?  Because if I know how much the character loved that person at one time, I will care about that character a lot more.  If you suddenly start with a divorce and how the couple fall apart, and all their struggles….well, I want to see the good things, I want be hooked emotionally.  It’s so important to hook us this way, and then you can go into the pain and suffering.

A good novel has a rhythm to it, like a piece of music.  There’s a conflict…it’s like watching a movie. When you watch a movie, you know something bad is going to happen, and then it does.  And start looking at your book visually.  That’s very important.  It bothers me when I can’t distinguish between one character and another in a novel, because the author hasn’t distinguished their voices, and hasn’t given me visual descriptions of the differences between the characters.  I need to see how they look.  I need to see differences in dialogue. You need to weave it together. 


Please tell us about the 2015 Unicorn Writers’ Conference.

Reid Castle in Manhattanville College

The next Unicorn for Writers’ Conference will be held from 7:30 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. on March 14, 2015, at Reid Castle in Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.  I’m already getting emails from agents asking to come.  Some agents that have come in the past, have asked to come back.  Other agents who we have not had in the past have asked to come.  We have no problem in getting major agents.

 I created this conference to educate writers on how to get effectively published, how to find the right literary agent, to educate writers on all the various departments within a publishing company, and to give writers an opportunity to meet leading book executives, agents, and editors. The evening will conclude with a fabulous networking party and dinner. Networking is essential for writers as you promote your book through your website and blog.  Visit  to read about our success stories, “Unicorn Writers Land Book Deals!” 

Our signature is the offering of our 1-1 manuscript review sessions for $55 for 40 pages to be read with comments by a literary agent and/or editor. You chose the agent or editor, register and provide the 40 pages, and then meet with them for 30 minutes during the conference.

Conference registration is now open at:  Information about sessions, agents, editors, speakers, and workshops will be updated as they become available.  For more updates and information, visit the conference blog at:



 IMG_1118.JPG purple orchids for blog

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An Interview with Publishing Expert, Jan Kardys, Part One

Jan Kardys

Jan Kardys


Peggy and I recently had the opportunity to meet with Jan Kardys, president of Black Hawk Literary Agency in Redding, Connecticut,  representing “a broad spectrum of authors and illustrators, with a focus on new nonfiction and fiction.”  She is founder and chairman of the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, committed to educating and encouraging writers by providing connections with other writers, authors, editors, and literary agents; and by offering workshops, panel discussions, and opportunities for one-to-one manuscript review sessions with agents and editors.  Jan and her business partner, Jeanne Rogers, recently established Unicorn for Writers LLC, also in Redding, offering a menu of forty expert publishing services for writers in various areas of manuscript evaluation and editing, publishing consultation and recommendations, social media and marketing,  as well as cover design and illustrations.

We settled down for lunch and a lively, informative interview in the distinctively New England town of Bethel, bConnecticut.   Jan started our conversation by displaying several of her current clients’ galley proofs (preliminary versions of publications) and her recent publication, You Wrote a Book, Now What?  Jan exuded so much enthusiasm in discussing her career, her teaching, and her work with clients and writers, that she hardly touched her meal.

Jan Kardys has thirty years of diversified publishing experience at several major publishing corporations, and although we provide a link to her complete resume below, we asked Jan to highlight in her own words, how she started on this professional path:

I’ve been in publishing forever, and I worked for ten major publishers. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich was my first publisher.  I started out in editorial, learned copy editing and proofreading, and took editorial classes at NYU. Later there was an opening to work for an art director and a production director.  So I took a break from editing to learn this, because production is a key component for every single book. I worked for an incredible art director, and learned a great deal about art: how you choose an artist and how you negotiate with an artist, for illustrations, specifications.  I learned about production runs and paper, and even though I didn’t want to stay in either of those two fields, it was invaluable, and helped me in many other areas of publishing.

When Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich moved to Florida, I took a job at Lippincott working for a subsidiary rights director.  I did permissions, foreign rights, book clubs, ISBNs, catalog identification and publication, and all sorts of work for subsidiary rights. Lippincott merged with Crowell, and another merge was being planned with Harper and Row. So while taking a class at NYU from the St. Martin’s Press’ subsidiary rights director…I learned that they were looking for someone to do foreign rights.  I brought my resume to the next class, got an interview, and I was hired. ….I also worked at Scholastic Inc., twice, three years in obtaining permissions, granting permissions, and doing some rights Then I went to Doubleday, where I switched from subsidiary rights into contracts. 



Doubleday was taken over by Bertelsmann, so I went to Macmillan’s contracts department. It was a great experience.  I stayed there for 10 years and I would’ve stayed for the rest of my life, but once again, (she chuckled) every publisher that I’d been with had this happen… Macmillan was taken over by Simon and Schuster.  I was promoted and did School/College contracts for a year.  Then there was an opening at Warner Books, and I became a director of contracts there.  Again, there was a merger.  Warner Books and Little Brown dissolved into Time Warner Trade Publishing, and so I was there for four years.

Then I went to magazine publishing only for a year.  Once you’re a book person, it’s really hard to go into a different world, like the magazine world.  So I left that and went to GOOGLE because I wanted to take a break since I had done so much in publishing, and I wanted to expand.  I was head of contracts in New York GOOGLE… and took classes in marketing, advertising, and sales, and it was invaluable.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned.

 Jan’s dedication to helping writers is unmistakable and seemingly unshakable.  This is clearly visible in her work with writers: teaching classes in book publishing, creating and chairing the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, conducting writers’ Meet Up groups, providing library presentations on topics in publishing, and providing numerous resources on her blogs and websites.


We asked Jan to tell us more about Unicorn for Writers, LLC and why she started the company:

We started the company because the interesting thing today about agents is that we know what the future is going to be, we figured it out. There’s going to be more and more self-publishing.  There are certain agents who on their websites say “consultation” or “marketing plans.” Agents should not charge a writer for reading their manuscript.  That’s taboo. 

When I get queries, I look at five to ten to twenty pages, or sometimes I’ll read a little bit more. I usually know within the first five pages if the person can write.  If they can’t write, I don’t have the time to help them.  So I started the new, separate company. This came out of all the work that I have to do for my nonfiction clients.  I was an English teacher…that was my first job and I love to teach.  I just love to show people what they need to do, because to me it’s so easy because I’ve been doing it for so long.  I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work.  The new company is called Unicorn for Writers.  So it came out of what I know from teaching writing at Norwalk Community College, and Greenwich Continuing Ed, and others…teaching what writers need to know. 


We published, “YOU WROTE A BOOK, NOW WHAT?  Insiders info on book publishing.”   

If you aren’t a great writer, or you want to become a better writer, you can you_wrote_a_book_now_whatbecome a better writer.  But who wants to sit here and read (she points to a pile of thick, bulky books) these books, beginning, middle, and end?  It’s a lot of work to read these books.  That’s the reason why I wrote the book that Jeanne and I put together.  I wanted to give none of the filler, go right to the point, “This is what you have to do.” So when you look at the book, you see how I parceled it out into all the different areas, and that’s how our website is too.  (Purchase info and a peek at inside pages can be found at:

 Jan on what writers need to know:

What do you do first?  Writers have to research their competition, and a lot of writers really don’t do that effectively.  If you’re going to write a memoir, read a lot of memoirs, study what those writers have done. Study their writing style, take notes, and keep a journal.  You’ll learn how they format their book, how they put it together.  

The whole Unicorn for Writers web site is designed for all the steps that a writer needs to take: first research the competition, then your manuscript – writing it, revising it, getting beta readers, doing a book summary, making sure the first five pages are incredible.  Because if you don’t hook us, we’re not going to buy your book.  The first page of the novel better be packed with emotion, and the main character has to ground us.  We have to dance inside ancestor.dmsp  new one.dmsp flattheir brain, and we have to love them, love them from page one.   

So that’s why we started Unicorn for Writers, and people have started to come to us. Jeannie and I do it together.  I talk about traditional publishing, and she talks about self-publishing.  We sort of banter back and forth because there are tremendous advantages to traditional publishing, for example, distribution.  Self-published authors can find book distributors, but they’re going to pay for those services.


Jan discussed some of the services offered through the new company.

 Manuscript Evaluations                                                                                        

 Jeanne and I each read the whole manuscript, and then we write what we think of it.  We do this separately and don’t tell each other what we thought until we’re both ready to send our emails to the author.  The authors are really getting two evaluations for one.  We do that deliberately because Jeannie will see things that I don’t see, and I’ll see things that she doesn’t see.  We see emotional things for which we’re generally similar, like flaws in character or transitions, or the tone, or what whenever it is—the rhythm of the book. We seem to have the same kind of feelings, but we write it differently, which really gives the writer so much more. When we’re each ready to e-mail to the writer, then we talk about it.  We find it really interesting what each has found, and what we liked or didn’t like.

Cover Design

Then, there’s the cover—a cover design is so expensive, and you can pay one to two thousand dollars.  You want a professional book design cover, because you don’t want a cover that doesn’t look good.  I’ve seen so many self-published covers that just upset me, probably because I worked for an art director.  I can see what’s good, and what doesn’t work.  You don’t want to look like a self-published author when you’re on Amazon.

So if you have a self-published cover, the public is not going to be impressed.  I connected with probably two hundred artists and illustrators on LinkedIn to subcontract for us with authors who want a cover design.  Unicorn for Writers is about connecting people. 

 Media Training                                                                                                              

Writers have to be on TV, and on the radio, and have to be entertaining, so we also have a media trainer.  He’s trained major politicians, and has trained three or four of our clients who love what he has done.  Authors need to have that polish—the way you move, the opening line, how to hook the audience right away.


Visit for more information on services concerning subsidy rights, serial rights, foreign rights, book club rights, copyrights permissions, specialty and premium sales, and many more areas of publishing that might be unknown to most self-publishing authors.

Please come back and visit on Sunday, July 27 when we will continue with  Part II of this interview.  We’ll cover Jan Kardys on topics including: good novel rhythm and visualizing a book;  becoming a better  writer; media ideas;   publishing readiness; and advice on query letters, book summaries, and manuscript set up.  We will also feature The Unicorn Writers’ Conference to be held on March 14, 2015,  at Reid Castle-Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY. 

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 Black Hawk Literary Agency

The Unicorn Writers’ Conference

Unicorn for Writers, LLC