From imagination to the page, these programs help local writers realized their ambitions.
Those aren’t just clouds in the sky over Seattle. Those are words, being strung together and churned out of coffeehouses, writing workshops, basements, bars and libraries all over the city.
We may have just missed being named a City of Literature by the United Nations’ UNESCO organization the other week, but Seattle is a place undaunted.
Writing is in our city’s makeup. We just can’t help ourselves.
Hugo House, for instance, just opened registration for classes in memoir, nonfiction and poetry taught by local and visiting authors. The classes will be held at satellite locations all over the city, as the nonprofit renovates its — ahem — storied location, a house on 11th Avenue on Capitol Hill.
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The University of Washington offers writing courses in its professional and continuing education program, along with formal degree programs in creative writing. So do Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University.
Some 16,700 Seattleites participated in last month’s National Novel Writing Month — known as NaNoWriMo — registering an idea and committing to writing 50,000 words over 30 days.
And on any given night, there is a reading being held; someone shakily reciting their prose for a gathering of friends and strangers. Even Seattle’s book-lusting librarian Nancy Pearl has finished a novel.
But then what? What to do with all those pages, all that potential?
Jen Worick and Kerry Colburn are in The Business of Books. The longtime friends and published authors are perhaps the only folks in town teaching what to do after the sturm and drang of writing has stilled.
Next month — just in time for New Year’s resolutions — they are hosting “Get Published!” a two-day retreat Jan. 23-24 at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville. It isn’t cheap — $870 — but includes a night in the hotel, all meals and the attention writers and their work need to shine.
“The majority of people that we meet want their writing to see the light of day,” Colburn told me recently. “There are all these great classes, but they’re not getting the next step. There’s not any practical closure about what to do next.”
In fact, when Colburn took a continuing education course at UW, the professor asked her to help close out the session by teaching a class on getting published.
“There are a lot of resources out there,” Worick said, “but even more confusion and uncertainty about how to go about submitting.”
Worick, who is 47 and lives in Queen Anne, is a New York Times best-selling author of more than 25 books, including the hilarious “Things I Want to Punch in the Face.” She is the former editorial director at Running Press.
Colburn, who is 46 and lives in Ballard, has a publishing pedigree as well: she is the author of nonfiction books like “How to Have Your Second Child First” and was the executive editor for Chronicle Books in San Francisco, where she developed book and gift-product for franchises such as The Bad Girls Guides and Emily the Strange.
They have passed that success onto their students, most recently Mike Curato, whose children’s book, “Little Elliott, Big City” — about a friendship between an elephant and a mouse in 1930s New York — resulted in a three-book deal with Henry Holt & Co. (There’s even an Elliott plush doll).
That should inspire people who may view marketing their work as crass, or selling out. Others may find the whole thing daunting.
But worry not, Worick said.
“It’s like doing your taxes,” she said. “You have such a block about it, like it’s this horrible task. But we break it down into manageable pieces.
“Writing is half the job,” she continued. “The other half is getting the book into the hands of a publisher.”
At the retreat, participants will write a learn how to write a successful book proposal, marketing plan and how to build an author platform. They’ll learn about their role in selling a book, like how to identify who their readers may be.
“We remind them that publishers are looking for them,” Colburn said, “and that book deals are signed every day.”
They will tell publishing tales from both sides of the desk: As authors pitching their work and editors looking for new talent.
“People think that nobody ever reads the ‘slush pile’” Colburn said, referring to stacks of unsolicited manuscripts. “But no agent gets into publishing for the money. They get into it for the discovery.”
Participants will learn how to write a book proposal and an introductory letter “so they have a tangible, working document when they leave,” Worick said.
“It’s super-practical,” she added. “That’s what we do.”
But there is something magical, too, they said, about spending two days nurturing a dream. There’s no racing from work to writing class, nothing to do but tend to what you’ve created and ponder the possibilities.
“There’s something that happens when you’ve given yourself permission to leave your life, family and work and focus just on your own writing, with no other responsibilities,” Colburn said.
Losing 10 pounds is not on anyone’s bucket list, Worick said. But writing a book usually is.
“Everyone has a book idea,” Worick said. “But not everyone knows how to take it to market and get it into the hands of readers.
“We can give them the tools and the intel to make it happen.”