Emerging Leaders in Publishing Day 1 Highlights
This year, we held our first virtual Emerging Leaders in Publishing Summit from February 9 – February 12, 2021. Joined by more than 25 industry professionals, students and attendees were able to connect and discuss about the latest changes in the publishing industry. To replay and watch the Day 1 videos, click here to see “The Gift of Never Landing” with Juliane Okot Bitek and Sophie McCall and here to see “How to Make a Thriller” with Samantha Bailey, Amy Stuart, Catherine McKenzie, and Nita Pronovost.
The Gift of Never Landing Conversation
We kicked off the day with introductions followed by “The Gift of Never Landing” conversation with Juliane Okot Bitek and Sophie McCall. In this conversation, Acholi Canadian poet Okot Bitek talks about her experience being a poet, finding her voice, writing and publishing on social platforms, her award-winning book 100 Days, navigating the publishing process, and working in collaboration with other Black and Indigenous artists.
Growing up, Bitek never came to know what it meant to come from a country and live in it. Most of her life, she lived away and struggled with the idea of belonging. Lately, she came to understand that it’s ok not to be from somewhere, and to never land. Thus, the name of the conversation “The Gift of Never Landing” was inspired by her experience growing up.
As an author and poet, Bitek has written many notable works such as Sublime: Lost Words, Gauntlet, and 100 Days. The process for writing 100 Days was quite different compared to her other works. Inspired by a photo posted on social media by Wangechi Mutu in memory of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Bitek decided to write a poem each day for 100 days and posted it on social media. These poems were written to commemorate the Rwandan genocide and drawn on her own family’s experience of displacement under the regime of Idi Amin. As a witness to genocide, Bitek felt a sense of responsibility to spark meaningful conversations and have others think about what happened in the past.
One way to remind others about the past and to learn and inspire others about important issues is to have the message conveyed through art. Recently, Bitek collaborated with Chantal Gibson to create the new street-facing art on the windows of the SFU Library called “un/settled.” Un/settled aims to centre Blackness and celebrate Black thought & creativity in a climate of systemic violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.
How to Make a Thriller Conversation
The authors spoke about the importance of having a premise and a pitch when writing a story. Most importantly, the premise must be “sticky,” meaning that you must be passionate and invested in your story that you are willing to spend the next couple of years building the storyline. As Catherine notes, “If it’s not going to be sticky to you, it’s never going to be interesting or sticky to a reader.”
One concern that upcoming authors have is whether their story will be able to sell in the market. Samantha advises to “never write to a trend because the trend will be gone by the time you write half the book.” She also emphasizes on the significance of passion and how “it has to be the story that you would want to read, so others will read it.”
Another challenge in the writing process is having writer’s block. Amy suggests overcoming this challenge by understanding your capacity, writing in a shorter time period, and setting a goal. She adds that “If your capacity is 5 minutes, then figure out how to write for 5 minutes. Don’t think about the novel you haven’t written yet.”
Throughout the event, attendees were delighted to have their questions answered by their favorite authors, with topics ranging from their writing inspiration to their writing process.