Novel Writers, Here Are Your Top 5 Reasons to Be an Incubee
The Novel Incubator is a program for writers interested in a deep revision of their novel draft, a comprehensive study of the novel form, and a thoughtful introduction to the publishing world. We are now accepting applications for the next phase of the Novel Incubator, May 2018 - May 2019. The submission deadline is February 15, 2018, and there are scholarships available. Apply today!
Incubator author Louise Miller takes the mic at the year three graduate reading. Image: Kelly Ford
It’s not often that I step beyond my editor role at GrubWrites and—gasp—contribute to this blog in the first person, but this year, just in time for Valentine’s Day, I feel compelled to switch into writer mode for a moment and talk about something close to my heart: the Novel Incubator. At the retreat where I am currently Writer-in-Residence, I find myself often enthusing to other residents about the Incubator—the unique curriculum, the intense, life-changing experience, the supportive community. The Incubator is the very best gift you could give your novel and yourself, I hear myself repeating to any writer who'll listen. And though I could offer a thousand reasons why that's true, seriously nobody has time for that. So, here are my top five all time reasons to be an Incubee.
Incubees launched and continue to run bi-annual reading series Craft on Draft, hosted by Trident Booksellers. Left Image: Incubator Instructor Michelle Hoover and Incubator author Patricia Park (Re Jane, Penguin) look on as Incubator author Stephanie Gayle hosts Craft on Draft. Right Image: a packed house at Trident for Craft on Draft.
1. The Incubator is a Master Class in Novel Revision.
The Incubator is designed specifically to address the concerns of the novelist—and even more specifically, the concerns of the revising novelist. While this might sound obvious, it’s also quite rare. The vast majority of MFA programs are structured around the short story—extremely useful, if you want to learn how to write a brilliant short story. MFAs are also important for writers who aspire to an academic teaching career. But if you want to learn not just how to write, but how to finish a novel? If you want to turn an unwieldy draft into a dynamic, engaging, salable book? Be an Incubee. Author and instructor Michelle Hoover (known to Incubees as “the Novel Whisperer”) guides you expertly through an intense and painful and ultimately wonderful learning experience (see the curriculum here), in the course of which, to paraphrase her, your novel will be broken down and rebuilt into a stronger, more dynamic, powerful version of itself. It is not for the pale hearted. It will hurt. Darlings will be slaughtered in their dozens. But from the wreckage, your novel will begin to emerge.
Incubees Robert Fernandes and Louise Berliner talk about their projects with an agent at the Muse and the Marketplace. Image: Sri Thumati.
2. It’s the Only Place Your Novel is Read All the Way Through (Twice!)
One of the challenges of receiving feedback on a book-length manuscript in a traditional workshop is that the novel must be viewed piecemeal. Rarely do you have an opportunity to share more than twenty pages, especially not with the same group of students who can track the intricacies of your story over several sessions. How do you gain a clear-eyed understanding of how your novel is working if your instructor and your classmates can’t read it from beginning to end?
In the Incubator’s first trimester, your entire novel will be read and workshopped by your entire cohort (and Michelle, of course). After your workshop, you’ll receive substantial letters of feedback from your classmates and concrete suggestions from Michelle that you can reflect on and digest as you begin the process of tearing into your novel and ripping out the seams. In the second trimester, you will submit a series of shorter excerpts as you revise to test out your revision ideas and get on-the-spot feedback. And in the final few months of the course, you’ll submit your whole novel again to receive fresh feedback on the revised version. To top it off, your novel will also be read and critiqued by another author—a published novelist who has been thoughtfully chosen as an ideal reader for your novel.
The workshop and the community doesn't have to end after the program—Incubees organize dozens of events every year, including readings, book groups, and salons that focus on craft and professional development. Image: Marc Foster.
3. You’ll Receive Industry Training and High-Level Access to Agents and Editors.
The culminating moment of the program is the one-on-one agent meeting at the Muse and the Marketplace Conference’s Manuscript Mart. This is a truly rare opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with an agent who has read and given written feedback on twenty pages of your manuscript—a higher level of access to a respected literary industry professional than most aspiring novelists can ever hope to gain.
But the Incubator program offers so much more than that one meeting. Weeks before the Muse Conference arrived at the end of our Incubator year, instructor Michelle Hoover was training us in all aspects of meeting and dealing with agents. We wrote, revised, and workshopped our agent query letter. We swapped ideas for “comps” (authors and agents use comparison titles to indicate the place a manuscript might fit into the publishing market). We wrote, revised, and practiced our one-sentence “elevator pitch” in class until we could not only recite it from memory, we could slip it effortlessly into conversation. We met Michelle’s editor, who visited class to give us a rare insight into the publishing process from an editor’s perspective, and Michelle’s agent, who listened to and evaluated each of our novel pitches. By the time we sat down to our agent appointments at the Muse, we had a refined sense of what to expect from an agent meeting, where our novels sat in the literary marketplace, how to pitch our manuscripts, and we’d already tried all this out on two receptive and supportive professionals. This experience gives you a huge leg up when it’s time to start querying.
The view from the podium at the launch of Incubator author Louise Miller's debut novel The City Baker's Guide to Country Living (Viking) at Brookline Booksmith. Image courtesy of Louise Miller.
The launch of Incubator author Kelly Ford's debut novel, Cottonmouths (Skyhorse), at Harvard Book Store, to a packed house of Incubees. Image: Sarah Pruski.
4. The Incubator Community Launches Literary Careers.
When I applied for the Incubator in 2014, I thought I was signing up for a yearlong course. Nothing less, nothing more. Classes had barely begun that summer before I discovered a huge added perk to being an Incubee: community. And I’m not just referring to the tight bonds I made in class with my year group. Incoming Incubees are also assigned a mentor, an Incubator graduate who acts as your go-to person to talk through your workshop critiques and discuss your progress with, and to seek advice from. I met my mentor at the “all years party,” an annual gathering to which every Incubee is invited. The vast majority of us turn out for it every year to celebrate the community and welcome incoming students.
The power of the Incubator community really shines, though, when it’s time to build author platforms and launch newly-published novels (here are the Incubator books published so far). Did you know that the first thirty days after a book’s publication date are the most crucial for determining its success? Did you know that all authors, whether at big five imprints or indie presses, are required to play an increasingly large role in driving that success? I certainly didn’t, before the Incubator. Book tours, interviews, well-placed essays, and other public appearances all contribute to a solid campaign, but so do Goodreads stars, Amazon reviews, library loan requests, and word-of-mouth, all of which require an army of cheerleaders.
Alumni board members (yes, there’s a board!) see to it that there is organized grassroots support for all books that are launching out of the program. Incubees show up in their droves to your launch, they rate your book en masse at Goodreads, they write reviews, they interview you for their blogs, they invite you to speak at their events. I once worked as a bookseller, and I can tell you from experience that a huge crowd of enthusiastic fans at your book launch is not a given. But an incubator launch? That’s a different story. These days, Boston bookstores see us coming. They know to put out those extra rows of chairs. They know it’s going to be standing room only.
Not only do Incubees show up for you publicly, they show up for you in private, too. When I was going through my agent search and thoroughly freaking out, Kelly J. Ford, Incubator graduate and author of Cottonmouths, took me aside in the GrubStreet corridor and told me that she’d emailed Incubator authors Emily Ross (Half in Love With Death, Simon Pulse) and Stephanie Gayle (Idyll Fears, Seventh Street Books) dozens of times while she and her agent were finding a publishing home for her novel. Kelly was telling me this because she wanted me to know that I could reach out to the community too—for professional advice, yes, but for moral support as well.
The view we gazed on while writing at the last Incubator retreat. Image courtesy of Pam Loring.
5. The Incubator is for Life.
As you might have gathered by now, the Incubator is not just a yearlong course. If anything, the first twelve months are an intensive initiation process, a rite of passage through which you step into the rest of your life as a novelist, armed with knowledge, experience, and insight; a tattered but healing draft destined to become a stronger novel; and a brand-new novelist family that just keeps on giving.
My cohort continued meeting every two weeks for years after the program ended, and now we meet up regularly to check in on progress, share news, and enjoy one another’s company. Other year groups are also meeting and workshopping on a regular basis. We have become one another’s confidantes, cheerleaders, shoulders to cry on, and drinking buddies.
The year I started the program, the alumni board launched Craft on Draft, a bi-annual reading series hosted by Trident Booksellers that is still going strong and that often features Incubator authors. Incubee-run website Dead Darlings is a popular and acclaimed source of knowledge and inspiration for novelists, and it’s a great venue for Incubees to begin building a following. There are regular organized writing nights, and book groups, and salons where Incubees share knowledge and information over dinner and drinks. Every November, Michelle takes a self-selecting group of Incubees (from any graduating year) on retreat in New Hampshire, a perk I love to take advantage of, because it's there that I strengthen bonds with Incubees from other graduating years, bask in the peace and focus only produced by being ensconced in a like-minded community of writers, and find myself once again under Michelle’s expert instruction, which has never failed to lead me to a major breakthrough with my novel.
And it’s not just friendship and emotional support that continues after the program ends. This year, Michelle launched a series of post-Incubator classes, for Incubees only. Alumni are also invited to annual meet-and-greets with agents and editors, so you will have ongoing opportunities to make strong connections with the publishing industry.
Incubees even come to your wedding! Incubee Ashley Weckbacher was surrounded by members of her year group on her wedding day. L-R: Desmond Hall, Julie Rold, Incubator Instructor Michelle Hoover, Pam Loring, Ashley Weckbacher, Laura Roper, Milo Todd, and Lesley Teel. Image: Michael Tallman Photography.
The application deadline for the May 2018 - May 2019 cycle is February 15th, 2018, and there are scholarships available.
As Editor of GrubWrites, GrubStreet's popular blog, Sarah serves the Grub community a daily dose of literary goodness. Book lovers can find reviews, news, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to stay up to speed on all things lit. Writers, GrubWrites is your go-to spot for expert craft talk, thoughtful discussions on how writing is learned and taught, and essential publishing and publicity advice. Sarah is also a GrubStreet instructor and consultant specializing in the novel.
Sarah is Writer-in-Residence at Wellspring House and a recipient of the work-study scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Her creative work has appeared in Solstice Literary Magazine, The Conium Review, Poetry and Audience, and other places, and her essays have featured on Dead Darlings and elsewhere. She's served on the editorial team for Post Road magazine and The Conium Review and is currently Fiction Editor at Pangyrus. A graduate of GrubStreet's Novel Incubator program, for which she was awarded a scholarship, Sarah is at work revising her first novel. She was educated at Leeds University, where she received her BA hons in English Language and Literature (International), with stints at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Kansas State University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, where she was awarded the Seaton Graduate Fellowship in Creative Writing. Most recently, Sarah completed an MA in English Literature at Boston College, where she was awarded a tuition fellowship and the Henry Blackwell Essay Prize. Hailing from Yorkshire, England, her life's mission is to introduce the word "sozzard" to the American vernacular. For a full list of publications, projects, and other services, including copy editing, please visit sarahcolwillbrown.com.See other articles by Sarah Colwill-Brown