Who Is Doing This?
“I tried to imagine it was my mom’s coauthor who wrote the sex scenes and that somehow my mom’s role in the writing process did not even involve reading those passages at all. That didn’t work, though.” – Dan Riskin, PhD, bat biologist, host of MONSTERS INSIDE ME on Animal Planet, co-host of DAILY PLANET on Discovery Channel, and author of the forthcoming MOTHER NATURE IS TRYING TO KILL YOU (Simon and Schuster, March 2014).
(Note: I put in the time: I’m entitled to name-drop.)
to have been selected as one of two presenters for Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps, The Writers’ Union of Canada’s cross-country series of professional development workshops for 2014.
My fellow presenter is the noted fiction author Caroline Adderson, who has five books of fiction for adults and several books for young readers to her credit. Caroline will be talking about the traditional route to publishing – how to find a publisher, how to prepare your manuscript for a publisher, working with agents and editors, and doing promotion once your book is out.
I will be talking about independent publishing – why you might want to consider it, even if you’re a traditionally published author (as I am) – e.g., for getting your out-of-print backlist out quickly, and maximizing your returns on sales – as well as how to actually manage the self-publication of a book. I’ll be talking about finding editors and book designers, how to publish cost-effectively, managing distribution and, of course, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about promoting self-published books.
With the help of John Degen, executive director of TWUC, former literature officer with the Ontario Arts Council, former executive director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the former communications manager for Magazines Canada (formerly Canadian Magazine Publishers Association) – John is also a writer – we’ll also be covering contracts, royalties, and copyright issues, and discussing the current state of the publishing landscape from a writer’s perspective.
Appearing East, West and On A Computer Near You
The first installments of the tour will take place in Eastern and Central Canada in February, 2014. Dates and locations for the one-day (9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) workshop have now been announced:
We will visit four additional cities – in Western Canada – in the autumn of 2014. Dates and locations for those are still to be announced. It is anticipated that the workshop will also be available for purchase in digital format after the series of live presentations is complete.
It is not necessary to be a member of TWUC to attend its PD workshops.
About The Writers’ Union of Canada
The Writers’ Union of Canada is Canada’s national organization of professional writers of books, and has approximately 2,000 members. TWUC was founded 40 years ago to work with governments, publishers, booksellers, and readers to improve the conditions of Canadian writers. I have been a member of TWUC for a long time, and highly recommend joining – not only does it serve as a highly effective advocate for and promoter of writers with governments, the cultural industry and the public, membership offers a host of wonderful advantages that range from a community of writers to dental benefits. For more information, visit the TWUC website.
Although membership in TWUC is currently restricted to writers with “a trade book published by a commercial or university press, or the equivalent in another medium,” at its May 2013 annual general meeting, in a unanimous vote, members of the Union approved a resolution opening membership to professional, self-published authors. The resolution will be presented to the entire TWUC membership in a referendum, and will come into force with a two-thirds majority. For more information, view the Union’s June 1, 2013 media release.
I have been inspired to get more active on Goodreads, thanks to a six-months-old article on The Huffington Post that I just recently discovered.
There are so many blog posts and articles out there offering promotional advice for authors that it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. But the information contained in “How to Become a Goodreads Power User (and why you’d want to)” by Penny C. Sansevieri sounds practical and viable.
Sansevieri points out that “the average demographic” of Goodreads “is adult female, many with college age kids and surprisingly, a whopping 81% of them are Caucasian. They are avid readers, though many are less affluent than the average Internet user so low-priced books and free books do very well on this site.” Sounds like a healthy portion of my audience – at least for The Woman Upstairs and The Whole Clove Diet – although it also sounds like the reading demographic in general. And I have seen many young and middle-aged adults (and lots of men) in Goodreads’ book discussions.
Sansevieri offers some concrete guidelines on how to increase your visibility on Goodreads and I intend to test drive several of them. I’ve already found that the giveaways are a great way to attract attention, although I’m not sure they translate into sales. But then I haven’t been a very consistent presence over there, so I the fault is no doubt mine. You can’t just post a new book and then go away and expect it to attract attention to itself.
I have occasionally heard some grumbling from other writers about Goodreads, but I’m not sure if this came from people who were active on the site, or were only drop-in visitors as I have been. Since I am normally an avid reader (although not so much since I got hooked on Breaking Bad), I can’t see a downside to getting more involved in Goodreads. Even if it just means I end up finding more people to talk with about other people’s books, it’s a win.
If you have more experience than I do as a writer on Goodreads, I would be interested to know your thoughts about the Sansevieri article. Is it as useful as it sounds?
And if you’re on the Goodreads site, make contact. This is me.
I’ve been reflecting on this issue in the past week. The only way I know of to win the Nobel Prize for literature is to write the best you can, and to keep publishing what you write… for decades. Even though attempting to win the Nobel seems like the slowest route imaginable to major book sales, and offers little satisfaction to the “I want it now” mentality from which most of us increasingly suffer, it may be the only route that offers any real satisfaction to those of us who are truly called to be writers.
In the past few months I have had absolutely no time to work on my own stuff (hence my absence from here. And the good news is that it has all been positive work that has kept me away from my creative-writing work – and that I see hope for a strong return on the horizon now). During these past few months I have noticed that I have not found myself longing to be a best-selling writer (i.e., to be rich and famous), I have found myself longing to write. Just write. That’s all. Whether it sells or not has been immaterial in the longing … I’ve just longed to write.
However, I have also had some interesting book promotion ideas during my hiatus, and I’ll be back to share them soon. Along with a wind-up column on the subject that summarizes what I have learned so far about book promotion.
Thanks to Alice Munro’s win, it is not only interest in her writing, but interest in short stories in general that has picked up of late. (Maybe even short stories by women writers who live in Canada? One can hope. Or at least I can.)
I should therefore point out that I too have a traditionally published short-story collection, and that copies are available. It is entitled Cool (River Books 2001). It is out of print and I have not yet re-released it for sale online, but you can send me an email and tell me you want it and I will send you a copy. It is $10 plus postage and handling. Here are the covers, front and back:
I also have several stories written towards my next collection, which will be entitled Machisma.
(Just kidding. Feeling cynical about what it takes to attract book buyers today.)
So many books are being published now that most of us will wait in vain for a bookstore owner or an established reading program to invite us to come out and strut our stuff. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for anyone to invite us. For very little money, we can put on an event any old time we want to – to celebrate the publication of a new book, or just to celebrate being writers.
If you are new to writing, most of your guests will likely be family and friends who have not been to readings and book launches before. They will come to the event out of curiosity in part, but primarily to share your excitement and toast your achievement. Your number one goal as host should be to make sure that when they get there, they have a fantastic time. (In fact, if that is not your goal, forget about doing it at all. This event is all about you, but it is also not all about you, if you get my drift.) With some planning and some thinking, you can make those who attend your event eager to attend the next book-launch or reading: thereby doing a service to writers everywhere.
The first thing you need is a venue. You can hold your event anywhere. Last summer, I was well into the planning of a picnic-style book launch in a ravine park when a few well-wishers insisted that I think about the weather possibilities and hold it inside instead. (I still like the idea of an outside reading. I think I’ll do it at some point.)
What we did instead proved to be a great alternative. We held the launch at a small art gallery in Toronto which was very reasonable to rent for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon (it’s called the Secret Handshake Gallery on Mutual Street, and it is managed by the noted Toronto poet and artist David Bateman).
It had a kitchen, which was handy for preparing tea and coffee, washing fruit, and arranging plates of crackers, cookies and dips. The same kinds of facilities would also be available in apartment-building party rooms, someone’s living room, the basement of a church, a community hall, etc. You don’t actually need a kitchen — think a room in a library, or the back room of a pub.
The next thing you need is a date and time. Give yourself plenty of lead time: you need to order books that will be available for sale, and you need to promote the event.
Begin the promotion three weeks or so ahead. Don’t rely on Facebook and Twitter: these sites are not too effective in attracting actual people to an actual event – although you will get lots of back-patting there, which always feels good. Check out where established reading series publicize readings in your area and submit a notice there (Open Book Toronto and Open Book Ontario are good examples from this region). You should also post notices on writers-organization events lists and in other arts publications. Your local newspaper or neighbourhood journal may also list your reading for free. If you are going to be reading at an art gallery or library, they probably have their own promotional methods – handouts and on-line items – and they will likely add your appearance to their list even though you are hosting it yourself, in the hope that you will bring people out to see other exhibitions or events they have on offer. And don’t forget that great “old-fashioned” method for spreading news: the email.
You need some kind of refreshments. These can be very modest: tea, coffee, juice, cookies, bottled water. Or you can get fancier and add wine, cheese, grapes, beer, tacos and dip, steak tartare and oysters – whatever you want, depending on your budget, your audience, the venue and the time of day. It’s true that people who’ve had a drink are much more likely to love your reading and buy a book than are the (tee)totally sober, but you have to figure out whether the potential payoff is worth it. Remember that you’ll need to sell several books to pay for even one half-decent bottle of wine: for economic reasons if none other, you may have to convince your guests to buy your books by giving an excellent reading rather than by lubricating them.
You might want to introduce a theme at your gathering that is in keeping with the subject of your book. When I launched The Whole Clove Diet, I invited people to bring Nanaimo bars – a sweet delicacy which figures largely in one of the novel’s comic scenes – in exchange for a free copy of the novel. Not only food, but decor, costume and music can be customized to suit the subject of your book.
You need books to sell (and autograph). This may sound obvious but I cannot tell you how many readings I have been to (including my own most recent one) where fate hung in the balance until the very day of the reading: would the books appear on a delivery truck in time for the event or not? Don’t give yourself a panic attack: order the books well in advance. (Of course, this problem will not occur if you are dealing only in e-books, but I am not sure that you can hold a viable book launch if you only have an e-book. I could be very wrong about that. Perhaps I just haven’t thought it through properly. Reader input on this subject is welcome.)
You also need a book sales table, and someone to sell the books for you (that’s what friends are for). You will need to provide a float. If your book is $15, have some $5s on hand to give as change for the inevitable $20s you will receive. You might also want to prepare a handout featuring the title of your book and a sales link or order form as a takeaway for those who didn’t bring enough money – or in case you run out of books to sell.☺
You need an itinerary. Plan to read for half to three-quarters of an hour maximum, and figure out what time you intend to start. I don’t recommend starting right at the time that the event begins. It’s a party: not just a reading, so let people mix and mingle for half an hour or an hour before you read. (This also gives the latecomers a chance to arrive.) Think ahead about whether you want music playing in the background while people socialize. If so, you’ll have to organize that in advance as well. (It’s pretty simple to bring a laptop computer with a playlist on it and a couple of speakers, but someone has to do it.)
You need someone to introduce you. This person will need to get people’s attention when it’s time for you to read, invite them to be seated, turn off the music, etc. During the introduction, this person should point out where your books are available for sale and announce how much they cost. When it comes to your introduction, you might want to write it out yourself and email it to your introducer ahead of time, just to make sure that all the points you want covered are covered. If the person who is introducing you might be insulted by your writing your own blurb for him or her to read, you could send a list of points to cover. Or else you could hope for the best, and fill in any oversights yourself when it is time to read.
Even if only one or two people show up, carry on. Poor turnouts happen to lots of writers, even those who are invited to read by established reading programs and bookstore owners. No matter how few there are, you should read anyway. Those people came all the way across town/around the world/down the street to hear you, and you want to blow them out of the water. Also, reading to a very few people will be good practice for when you become as famous as Margaret Atwood and you have people lined up down the block to hear you read.
(I encourage you not to read like Margaret Atwood does, however. She can get away with a deadpan delivery, but most people cannot. Further to this bit of gratuitous advice, in my next blog post I am going to talk about how to give a good reading. Too many writers don’t and there is nothing worse than a boring or inept reading. The only comparable experience in my life was a philosophy class I took at university where the lectures were delivered at 8 a.m. by a prof who leaned against the blackboard with his eyes closed, and spoke like Margaret Atwood reads. He seemed to still be half asleep – his half met my three-quarters and no knowledge was transferred.)
You need a photographer. (This is also what friends are for.)
You need people to help you clean up afterwards. These same people should take you for a drink after all the cleanup is done so that you can celebrate the celebration. For if you have done it properly, it is only when your well planned, well delivered, fun event is over that you will actually be able to start enjoying it yourself.
Note to my FaceBook friends: I’m taking a break from Facebook, which has lately been turning into more of an addiction than a pleasurable diversion. If you think some of our mutual Facebook friends would be interested in this post, please post the link as I can’t do that at the moment. Thanks. – Mary
The publication of Claire Messud’s new novel is an event that I, along with thousands of others, have eagerly anticipated. I read The Emperor’s Children, and was impressed. Messud has won several prestigious writing awards and, according to Wikipedia, was even “considered for the 2003 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list, although none of the three passports she holds is British.” That’s how good she is.
Little did I know that the publication of Messud’s newest book was going to be of some modest financial benefit to me. But it has been: ever since the pre-promotion started on her latest novel, sales of my first novel have increased. Not enough to save me from financial ruin, by any means: we’re talking maybe ten books a week total on amazon, including both the Kindle version and the paperback. (And who knows? Maybe one or two of those book buyers really did intend to buy my book.)
Nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable. I feel like my book is selling under false pretenses, and that I should put some kind of warning on my book’s page on amazon – BEWARE: THIS MAY NOT BE THE NOVEL YOU THINK IT IS!!!
On the other hand, my name IS on my Woman Upstairs. I’m not trying to impersonate Ms. Messud. And I was there first, having chosen my title very carefully many years ago. (It refers to three entities: to the mother of my protagonist, who is dying in an upstairs room; to the protagonist’s landlady and friend, who lives on the main floor of the house where Diana has the basement suite: and — of course — to the female correlative of “The Man Upstairs,” which is how some people refer to God.)
Occasionally someone returns a copy of my Woman Upstairs to amazon, and I can hardly blame them: in fact, I am surprised more of the people who have bought my book by mistake have not returned it. Maybe they don’t know they can.
Friends and loved ones tell me I should not feel guilty, but should just accept it. Not much else I can do, short of adding the warning, which is a silly idea really. (Titles are not copyrightable, by the way, and even if they were, I wouldn’t, so don’t even go there.) I sometimes wonder what will happen if Claire Messud’s Woman Upstairs wins some big award. (You go, girl.)
I also hope that, having bought my book by mistake, perhaps a few people will accidentally read it, and will like it enough to purchase something else I’ve written — like The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel or The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid.
On the other hand, they might well intentionally read my novel, like it, and then go off and buy other books that Claire Messud has written. I guess that would be fair.
In the meantime, I’ll use some of my ill-gotten gains to purchase The (Other) Woman Upstairs, and maybe that will help to salve my conscience. Even though I was going to buy it anyway.
And I guess I’ll get back to work on my next novel (working title: Moby Dick).