The Writers' Loop

For Readers and Writers


Interview with Vanitha Sankaran, author of WATERMARK

By Susanne Marie Poulette

When I attended the Breakout Novel Intensive workshop last April, I had the pleasure of meeting Vanitha Sankaran, author of Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages (Harper Collins/Avon, 2010),  I must admit that once I started reading her book, I couldn’t put it down.  I was captivated by the protagonist and the beautiful flow of language in her story.  Vanitha kindly agreed to this interview, which I believe will demonstrate the depth and richness of Watermark.


  • Your protagonist is such a strong, resilient, free-thinking woman, set in the Middle Ages. What inspired the development of Auda’s character? 

To be honest, the character concept came about in a very strange way. When I started what was then a short story, I was not a serious writer, per se. Writing had been a passion of mine since I was very young, but I had set it aside for a more practical career as a biomedical scientist. This story popped out when I was writing my dissertation, and was actually about a very ugly girl (who was the daughter of a   papermaker) who had captured the attention of an aspiring artist. He wanted to draw the unusual turn of her lips, the mismatched slant of her eyes, the strange way she looked at the world and didn’t notice other people making fun of her. He used her father’s paper for his early sketches and made a good sum off them, and of course left her behind and he moved onwards and upwards.

That story didn’t work out, possibly because I didn’t want to write about a girl taken advantage of. I wanted to write about an unusual girl who didn’t fit in, but because she was so far ahead of her peers. Thus was Auda born.


  • What was the significance in choosing mutism for Auda?

                        Vanitha Sankaran

As a historical fiction author and a scientist, realism is never far from my writing. Books and films have seen a surge over the past two decades in terms of having strong capable women as protagonists, and that’s a great thing for literature. I have no doubt strong women have always existed, but perception of what strength means has obviously changed through the years. In this book, Auda’s strength was her thirst for her knowledge, her interest and ability in reading. But I had to need a good reason why the daughter of craftsman would know how to read—again, the realism. Mutism gave me a way for Auda to be that intelligent girl who wrote as a way to find her true voice.

  • You did extensive research on medieval France, including daily life amid widespread Church corruption, as well as the role of papermaking in those times. Were there any particular challenges you met in writing this historical novel?

It’s funny you mention Church corruption because this very well-trodden truth was one facet of my novel that was the hardest for me. It has become fashionable to malign the Catholic Church and especially in the Middle Ages, that reputation is well deserved. But at the same time, I was interested in exploring other nuances behind the Church’s actions. For me, that involved searching for the whys of someone who truly believed burning heretics was saving their souls from a much worse fate. Drawing out that personality was, for me, much harder than researching the ways of medieval life in south France (especially since I have enough of a background in French that I could decipher the much serendipitous books I found about Narbonne in that era). 

  • In reading Watermark, many themes resonated for me. I was particularly struck by the human suffering and gender injustices bred by religious fervor, still rampant in today’s world. Was your intention to make a connection to these present day issues?

Yes, and not just in the human condition, but also in how we develop new ways of communication each other, and how that new communication changes things. As with the advent of paper, the Internet and social media have changed the way we communicate profoundly. A girl who cannot read, has no value as determined by her religion except as property to a man, and who suffers terrible abuse can reach to others like her or those who can help much easier with the Internet. Or, at least, her plight can see the light of day. In its time, paper was also a way for regular people to hear truths they were blind to before. The issues I wrote about in Watermark are still true to today, and sadly, will be true for a long time. But how we overcome injustices and suffering, and how our response continues to change and grow is the connection I really wanted to make.

  • Your book cover is rich and inviting, and the elegant simplicity of your title is intriguing. How did you decide on a one-word title?  Was it your own idea to imbed Martin’s watermark in the cover design?

I had a great cover designer, for certain! I’m not sure whose idea it was to incorporate the watermark in the design but the watermark is something I made out of wire and played with as I explored homemade papermaking using medieval recipes. The title, which I think fits the novel on many different levels, was suggested to me by a writer colleague, Ejner Fulsang.

  • How long did it take to write Watermark? Did it take longer to write it or revise it?

Start to finish the whole process took 8 years. Of course in that time, I had to learn the writing process, or rather my process, finish up my Ph.D., complete an MFA in writing, and hold down a job. J But I think that type of schedule is true for most writers—how many of us can make a living off of our books alone? That said, it was definitely the revising that took longer for me. I knew the start and end of my novel when I began it in earnest, and some of the major highlights. Writing the first draft was painful, but reading it was even more so because I knew how much work it needed to be ready to submit to an agent. But others are lot smarter, quicker, more talented than I am, so no one should take 8 years as any sort of standard!

  • Do you have a particular writing routine that works best for you?

The morning are most productive for me, partly because my attention is focused and partly because I have come to understand that if I don’t make time for my novel, no one else is going to do it for me. Writing my freelance articles and grants, cleaning the house, doing laundry—all of that is important to do but after I get in some good writing hours. Leaving the home from time to time is also a good thing. Not only is it a change of scenery (and research for new character nuances), but it trains you not to be tied to one routine. Have 20 min at the bank? Write some notes to yourself. An hour at the doctor’s? Sketch out a scene. It’s the writing that is important—now when or where or even hw you do it.

  • Are you currently working on another writing project?

Yes. I am working on another historical novel, this time about how printed propaganda sways an election in Renaissance Venice, and also a young adult novel that explores how the existence of other worlds has affected our mythologies and beliefs.

  • What advice would you give to budding novelists like me, who never seem to be finished revising their manuscripts?

quillKeep writing. Write more. If your current story isn’t working, put it aside and work on something else. Analyze books that you love. Learn why they work. Then come back to your project and look at what you are missing. Writing Watermark took me 8 years. Writing the second book is almost taking me as long, because I am working on a different project from a different point of view. That’s okay with me (most days). I want to keep learning, and I think that learning process bears out in every author’s writing.

But most of all, don’t lose faith in yourself. There’s plenty of other writers who won’t believe in you. Believe in yourself, and when you feel the book is done, send it out and  listen to the feedback you get. No one said this was easy. But it is worth it.

  • Is there anything that you would like to add for our readers?

If you love a book that you read, tell someone about it. It could be loaning a copy to a best friend, telling your community librarian, or sharing why you loved it online. The thing that absolutely connects writers and readers is our love for a good story. And if you’re a writer who loves someone else’s work, that goes double! Good books propagates more good books, and there are never enough.

Thank you! I am so honored you wanted me to be a part of your blog! – Vanitha

Thank YOU, Vanitha Sankaran

To learn more about Vanitha Sankaran, visit her website:



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So, How’s YOUR Novel Coming Along?

By Susanne Marie Poulette

Yes, we’re already 5 days into NaNoWriMo, that is, November’s National Novel Writing Month.  This means that we only have twenty-five days left to write thumb-1330516229411-img_864150,000 words, that is, if we haven’t already put our noses to the grindstone, or more specifically, to the keyboard.

NaNoWriMo issues a challenge to write 50,000 words from the beginning to the end of November.  There are write-ins across the nation where future bestselling authors are gathered, hunched over their electronic devices, pecking away, each creating that coveted magnum opus that is sure to seal a deal.  Whether writers are grouped or individual, the NaNoWriMo website provides an online community of support and motivation.  The idea is to get the 50,000 words written. No procrastinating, no excuses, no kidding, period. The stated goal is first draft completion, not perfection. Editing and revision take place later on, during some other thirty day marathon.

I’ve noticed that some writers pooh-pooh NaNoWriMo.  Maybe they’re purists, or realists?  Others say it’s just the right catalyst they need to get their ideas from gray matter to finger tips.  If NaNoWriMo  motivates folks to follow their dreams, so be it.  I think writing leads us to discover our creativity and yields a sense of accomplishment, whether or not our coffee-stained, dog-eared manuscripts find their way to a bookstore shelf.  Writing for the pleasure it brings. 

What do you think?  I’d love to read your comments.

I know I couldn’t write 50,000 words of quality work with unforgettable characters in just 30 days. Hats off to anyone who has done this. You are a better writeslowboattochina_zpsd36485aer than I am. My own novel, coming along on the SS Slow Boat from China, has lived about 2600 – 3000 days, and is still a work in progress.

For anyone interested, Writer’s Digest has an online article, NaNoWriMo Prep: 30 Tips for Writing a Book in 30 Days, by Jessica Strawser.  Click on the boat to follow the link and learn more.   ~~


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Clifton Park – Halfmoon Library, October 2015. Photo by SMPoulette

Speaking of writing novels, and sorry about this lame segue, I recently had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr, thanks to the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library.  Doerr’s book, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE,all the light (2) has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 77 weeks, to date.  If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it. I will give the basics, however.  This story takes place in France during World War II, with a blind French girl, and a German boy with a genius for radio waves (which exist, but which we cannot see).


Doerr explained his writing process for this novel, and rather than thirty days, this one took a decade.  (Ten years! Be still my heart, there might be hope for me yet.) He described his writing as putting together pieces of a large puzzle, beginning with his time spent in France garnering ideas, imagery, story line, and characters, and his research in period history as well as the nature and physics of light.  His book is written from two main points of view, and his chapters switch between the two main characters, and then alternate in time, non-sequentially from before, during, and after the war.

Many of the 187 chapters are short, some just a single page.  Doerr said he did not write the chapters in the order that a reader would read them.  For instance, he worked on the ending long before he wrote the middle chapters. Sometimes he worked longer on the German boy’s sections, and then on the blind girl’s story, following wherever the muse took him.Anthon D

If  interested, go to Doerr’s website to read some of his work online, and watch actor Damian Lewis reading from Doerr’s story “The Deep.”  Click on Anthony Doerr’s photo to reach his website.   ~~


John-glasses-bw-high-res-199x3002John Irving has an interesting writing process.  He’s currently on tour with his latest novel, AVENUE OF MYSTERIES.  I caught his recent interview on the Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert.

Camera    Click on the camera to watch Irving explain his writing process.

story time clip artTo watch Irving having fun reading a bedtime story in a skit with Colbert, click on the chicken.  Full disclosure: this video might make you laugh.

It seems remarkable to me that Irving hand writes all his novels.  He explained that handwriting allows time for fewer mistakes, in a pace that he believes is right for him. Going slowly, he takes a long time to develop characters with whom one can sympathize.

Irving told  Shaul Schwarz of Writers Write that he irving-avenue-mysteries-30-45not only writes in longhand, but he uses both sides of the paper. He added that when he was writing THE CIDER HOUSE RULES he came to the realization that he writes best when starting with the ending of the story. Irving said this technique “never lets him down.”  He writes the last sentence of a story, and then “writes toward that sentence.”  Fascinating, but it boggles my linear mind.

Irving’s first novel, SETTING FREE THE BEARS, was published in 1968.  THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, Irving’s fourth, won the National Book Award in 1980 and was his first international bestseller. In 2000, John Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for THE CIDER HOUSE RULES.  For more about John Irving, click on his book to link to his website.    ~~



 cal for blogSo, I’ll ask again, how’s your novel coming along? No interest in writing?  That’s ok too.  Certainly, writers need readers, in fact we love them.  What would we do without them?

Whether writers are pounding out 50,000 words in thirty days, or taking more time, as described by John Irving and Anthony Doerr, the point is, just go ahead and do it. It’s your story, from your heart, you’re the boss of it, and no one can tell you it’s wrong. As my dear friend Peggy says, quoting Wayne Dwyer, “Don’t die with your music still inside you…”  If you have a story to tell, find your voice, take as long as you want, and enjoy sharing it in your own good time.  I’d love to read it.                                                 

©  Susanne Marie Poulette






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Looking for a Fresh Summer Read?

By Peggy Morehouse

The Center for Fiction has announced its long list for the First Novel Prize awarded to the best debut novel published between January 1st and December 31st of the award year. Check out the list. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite author!

The Center for Fiction is the only nonprofit literary organization in the U.S. solely dedicated to celebrating fiction, and works to connect readers and writers. Time Out calls The Center one of the top three reasons to stay in Manhattan for literary events, citing the innovative panels, lectures and conversations that take place in their beautiful building on East 47th Street. They also feature workspace, grants, and classes to support emerging writers, reading groups on classic and contemporary authors, and programs to help get kids reading. They recognize the best in the world of fiction through annual awards, and  operate one of the few independent fiction book shops in the country. The Center for Fiction was started in 1820 by New York City merchants before the advent of the public library system.


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Pulitzer Prize Winner Jane Smiley Visits Northshire Bookstore

By Peggy Morehouse

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley visited Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, NY to discuss her new trilogy about the life and times of a remarkable family over three transformative decades in America. IMG_0648 Smiley walked in wearing a Saratoga Racing Hall of Fame cap that she purchased earlier that day, rainbow colored high tops, and of course, a smile. She then answered questions about her books and her life.


Jane Smiley is on the left.

She explained that each volume of her new trilogy spans 33-to-34 years of the Langdon family, five wildly different children who got their start on an Iowa farm. Smiley wanted to explore how characters transform throughout their lives and how they stay the same. From the time they were born until they died, she focused on a component of Langdons’ psyche that never changed. As intriguing as that sounds, the story doesn’t start on page one. It begins in the dedication:

This trilogy is dedicated to John Whiston, Bill Silag, Steve Mortensen, and Jack Canning, with many thanks for decades of patience, laughter, insight, information, and assistance.

Ike Pulver, Director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library, who interviewed Ms. Smiley asked, “Are those four men your husbands?” Jane Smiley grinned and nodded with a glint in her eye, then relayed that she has been divorced three times and married four. Proving that she could have a second career as a comedian, Smiley mused about her marriages and how these four men not only influenced her personally, but helped with her writing. She conveyed that her current husband is a great listener. When Smiley finishes her writing for the day, she reads to him hoping for a critique. “If he falls asleep, I know I need to add more sex.” IMG_0661Besides writing and romance, Smiley likes to wear caps that she collects, and she loves horses. She has written books with her favorite animal as the main character including Horse Heaven and True Blue, and stated that there is at least one in all sixteen of her novels. She described her relationship with horses by saying, “They’re like having a friend that you can ride.”

When asked about what books influenced her, she said that The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew were the first characters who kept her eyes glued to a book when she was a young girl. However, reading Giants of the Earth by Ole Edvart Rolvaag  in ninth grade had a profound impact on her life. “What you read when you’re 13, shapes your consciousness.”

After her interview, Smiley welcomed questions from the audience, and signed books while conversing with her Saratoga fans. IMG_0677 To learn more about Jane Smiley visit her website:

Stop by her Facebook Page at:

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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



Write That Book!

By Peggy Morehouse Strack

I love most everything about writing novels. Creating vibrant characters, choosing fascinating settings, and developing intriguing plots are all part of the fun. The difficult part is not being able to easily display my handiwork, and let’s face it, when we create something, we like to share it. Actors want an audience, chefs want diners, and gardeners want admirers, but it’s not so easy for the novelist. A painter can invite friends over for dinner, point out her latest portrait hanging on the wall, and feel gratified by the compliments. An author can’t say, “I just completed 300 pages of my new book, have a seat, and read my manuscript.” Well, she could, but her guests would have to stick around for a few days, and they probably wouldn’t return.

A novelist must be patient. Work hard, create the best story possible, and then publish it. Although it is difficult to break into traditional publishing today, there are so many options to get your story out there. Self-publishing “done right” is currently highly respected in the book world. Review giants like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly have special categories on their website just for independent authors and literary agents are always on the lookout for writers who prove they can successfully market their books. There’s also the digital-only option for those who don’t want to invest the money involved in producing hard copies.

Once you establish an audience, no matter how large or small, the author-reader loop of the writing process is closed, and satisfaction can be realized. I self-published my first novel, A Stop in the Park, almost two years ago and the feedback continues to flow in. Just last week, two local bookstores informed me that they needed more copies and the receptionist at my dentist’s office asked, “When is your next novel coming out, Peg? I loved your first one and can’t wait.”

I must admit, I do get a warm feeling inside when people tell me they “loved” my story. That it touched them in a special way. It’s like giving a gift to a friend and seeing a genuine smile when the package is opened. Negative critiques are okay too. Even Harry Potter didn’t find a place in everyone’s heart. The bottom line is, I told my story and it’s out there in the world for viewing.


Remember, a huge royalty check or a spot in the top ten on the New York Times Best Seller List isn’t what publishing a novel is about. It’s letters like this from someone I’ve only met through my novel, A Stop in the Park:

Good Morning,

A few months ago, I purchased your book for my 95 year old great-great Aunt Dot who lives in Kentucky. She has raved about your book and has since spoken with my grandmother about another book that you may have written. I see on your website that you will be publishing a short story via the Kindle, which she does not have and also another book. Would there be any way to get a hard copy of the short story?

Thank You,

What about you? Is there something you’d like to create, but haven’t. What’s stopping you?