By Mark Cameron
A lot of people have warned me to watch out for Vanna D. Just like her namesake on that long-running television game show, she's quite a make-up artist. Vanna D offers cosmetic assistance to self-published authors, promising them great results. I wouldn't be surprised if she struggles with her own self-esteem beneath that well-made-up surface, because almost every writer or publisher I talk to puts her down.
This whole Vanna D issue is complicated. On the one hand, you have this person who is really good at promoting herself -- even if she's not very good at promoting the people she serves. She applies a liberal quantity of lipstick to make a book -- and by extension its author -- look good. What happens from there ... well, that's up to the author. That wouldn't be so bad if she stated her limitations clearly from the get-go, but all too often Vanna D oversells and under-delivers.
I understand why people want to avoid a self-serving makeup artist, but there are other sides to the story of Vanna D. While legions of writers seek her help to break free from the self-publishing slog -- to stand out from the growing crowd of do-it-yourself writers -- countless others subject themselves to a whole different kind of slog: sending hope-and-pray packages to traditional publishers and agents, then waiting months or years to be welcomed into the club of published authors. It seems to me that Vanna D has a hand in that world, too.
Let's face it: publishing is a tough way to make a living, and writing is too. It's not easy to promote a book -- even a great book -- amidst the explosion of literature that has resulted from the emergence of print-on-demand publishing and e-books. Traditional publishers are fighting to uphold a standard for quality work while dealing with increased competition and shrinking margins. Authors want to establish themselves as artists worthy of respect, while also dealing with increased competition and shrinking margins. And Vanna D ... well, she's just looking for opportunities to make a buck and prop up an ego or two.
Not every author wants to earn a living from writing. Many people see writing their "one great book" as a bucket list project. Others have something important to say, and they'll pay for the opportunity to say it. And then there are those who aspire to be working writers. We know it's a long road, and we are willing to wear out a few pairs of shoes to walk it. But when Vanna D pulls up in her shiny car and offers us a ride, suggesting that we just need to pay for gas, well ... that's a hard offer for our weary legs to turn down.
Wearing my other hat -- as a publisher and provider of book production services -- I live somewhere in the grey zone of "hybrid publishing". Although I'm not a big fan of labels, I kind of like this one. It makes me feel like a Prius -- progressive and economical. And the word hybrid implies a moderate approach -- a middle ground -- between two extremes. What I want to create is a sort of mid-point shelter that offers reprieve from Vanna D's effect on both ends of the publishing spectrum -- a place where quality and integrity meet. A place where great writing is turned into great books, and everybody -- author, publisher and reader -- wins.
I believe that most publishers today are being forced to move toward that middle ground, asking more of authors while having less to give in return. And I get it. Publishing is a challenging business that is undergoing a massive transition -- a road with an unknown destination. And what about all the authors walking along that road, throwing out the occasional thumb to accelerate their journey to literary success? If and when a car pulls over ... will Vanna D be driving?
There are crooks and bullies in every industry -- and there's everybody else: the vast majority of writers, publishers and service providers who are just trying to hone their crafts and earn a living. In this modern world of publishing, it seems that you have to be a little bit audacious to believe you can succeed. You have to be a Prius with the heart of a Porsche.
As for all those warnings to unsuspecting authors ... I plan to keep my thumb down and my eyes on the road. I might accept a ride from a thoughtful driver in a reliable automobile -- maybe even a Prius -- but I'll let all those impractically fancy cars pass me by. After all, there's no use letting Vanna D press me.
Contributed by Sheila Cameron
Have you ever organized your own book tour? If you have, you will understand the intricacies and layers and the sheer volume of work required to pull off a successful event. And you will understand the highs and lows that accompany an author during reading after reading on the road. From the perspective of looking back, it is pure entertainment!
If you've always wondered how a book tour gets organized -- you may also enjoy this upcoming Federation of BC Writers workshop that describes a book tour from conception to birth.
Author Mark Cameron will be at the Gibsons Public Library on Saturday, September 17th at 1pm to share entertaining tales from his summer book tour and tips for creating your own future events.
Contributed by Weegee Sachtjen
"Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any." – Orson Scott Card
It's been around for over 400 years, but I recently stumbled upon a word that I think embodies the creative writing process to a "T".
form an idea of; imagine or conceive.
form ideas; think.
Ideate comes from the Greek verb, idein, which means to see. The sight-insight connection of the idea and ideal comes from the clever Greek philosopher Plato.
He believed that a true philosopher can see the authentic nature of things and see their true form, their ideal form.
A friend of mine once said that we write, "not to explain the world but to explore it."
Writing is about imagining what could be between uncommon events. It's about seeing a vague outline of drama in the everyday interactions between neighbours. It is finding the common denominator in our lives.
It takes a bit of curiosity. A sense of wonder. An inquisitive mind.
It takes looking beneath our surface layers to our true form, our ideal form.
And writing from there.
"Learn as much by writing as by reading." Lord Acton
Contributed by Weegee Sachtjen
A strange thing happens when the temperature starts to warm. As the days get longer and brighter, I find it harder to focus on word counts and synonyms. Bird songs and floral scents drift through my office like a siren’s call, forcing a mental block on dialogue creation.
In short, summer has a way of distracting me as a writer. I feel that while there is more sunlight in my days, I am spending less time at the keyboard.
I hope you are better disciplined than me—that you are able to power through your character development without heeding to the subtle lure of summer. If this is you, I am jealous.
For those who cave to temptation and abandon your work-in-progress for a daily dose of vitamin D, I have come up with a few tips to help us through the summertime writing blues:
1) Create a Summer Writing Ritual
Do you have a process or ritual that begins your writing segment of the day? Maybe it is listening to music. Perhaps it is an intricate step-by-step procedure that unlocks your muse. During the summer months, change it up. Bring summer into the ritual. Play Sudoku outside in the sun’s rays before disappearing into your office for your daily writing frenzy. Don’t avoid summer. Incorporate it.
2) Reward System
I believe in knocking out my writing (or chores) and then coasting for the rest of the day. It is easier for me to “get ‘er done” in the morning and enjoy what summer has to offer in the afternoon. I consider it my reward for a word count well done. Use summer to motivate you to power through your daily writing.
3) Walk It Out
Writers write even when they aren’t at the keyboard. Get out. Take a walk. Soak in the sounds of summer for twenty minutes. By the time you are back to your computer, you will be ready to write.
4) Writers’ Day Out
It’s easy to want to stay inside and pour out your thoughts during winter when the temps are low and the ambiance is dreary. Summer injects colour into our world. People still rush about but more leisurely. Take the time to enjoy it. Get out once a week for a peek at the world and all the inspiration it has to offer. An intentionally planned day out can actually help keep you focused for the rest of the week.
5) Enjoy It
Sure, summer reduces our word counts by way of vacations, visiting friends and patio evenings. But it also brings the counter-balance to our winter hibernations. It is how we connect with others and even ourselves. Take the time to enjoy it.
Contributed by Weegee Sachtjen
Everyone knows about hashtags thanks to the famous “Hashtag” skit with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.
But how can you use it effectively to self-promote your book? How does putting the pound symbol in front of a word work?
The “#” in front of a group of words or phrases identifies the keyword or topic of interest. The phrase (withoutspaces) is immediately index by the social network and searchable by other users. If someone clicks on the hashtag, they are brought to an aggregated page of all the posts, and future posts in real time, with that hashtag.
Popular Hashtags for Writers
Hashtags can connect you with readers, experts, reviewers and other authors. You can connect about the writing process, book genres, industry info, readers and creativity.
Here is a great resource with a list of possible #writer hashtags:
Online social media also has its own rules for posting etiquette:
1) Don’t string too many words together into one. Although, there is a time and place for that.
2) Don’t over-tag in a single tweet. A good standard is three.
3) Don’t #hashtag #several #words #in #a #row.
4) Do use hashtags that are relevant to the topic.
5) Do research a hashtag before you use it to make sure it is appropriate.
Why Create Your Own Hashtag
Creating a unique, special hashtag can give an author or their book a special lift. It’s like a secret code word for followers to use in reference to you or your product. It will help to track mentions of you, your book and the genre you write in. Hashtags also increase the chance of someone discovering you or your writing through searches within the social media platform.
It could be your book title (#SpyWhoLovedMe), a key phrase from the book (#BondJamesBond) or the name of your book tour. Get creative. Have fun. Use it often.
Contributed by Sheila Cameron
Wouldn't it be nice if we could pick an industry, jump in with both feet and instantly know all there is to know? Years ago, a friend shared with me that the average person will have ten careers in their lifetime. That was great news -- it meant I would never be bored. What I didn't think about at the time was how each profession would have its own learning curve to overcome before the ride got smooth.
When Mark and I decided to explore publishing, we knew we wanted to learn fast. We chose to throw ourselves into a steep curve. And that's how we found ourselves at IBPA's Publishing University in Salt Lake City last month.
During the drive there, we worked out our strategy. We each had some questions that we would seek answers to over the weekend and, in addition to those specific goals, we would maximize our learning from what else was on offer. I am more introverted, so I enjoy going to education sessions, listening and taking notes. Mark is more extroverted, so it was a natural fit for him to make connections with people during all of the social opportunities -- over meals, through Ask the Experts sessions, in the hallway and elevator -- and by having conversations with all of the sponsoring vendors displaying over the weekend.
Some takeaways from the conference were philosophical or motivational. "You're doing the right thing." "You're in the right place to learn." "Coming here is giving you an advantage." But there were also many practical tidbits that resulted in a compounded increase of knowledge about book publishing. We learned about what makes a good book cover stand out from the rest, how to approach indie bookstores, why to not pay for a book review, and how connecting with readers in person is still a good strategy.
The best thing about the weekend was hearing from like-minded people who want to share important consciousness-raising stories with the world. I had some warm fuzzy moments for sure, and we drove away with our heads full of new knowledge and inspiration.
So, are we there yet? Not even close. It's a long road, but we are a whole lot further along in the journey now that we have thrown ourselves into that steep curve. I highly recommend PubU to anyone serious about getting serious about publishing.
I expect we'll hit a few speed bumps over the next year, but we'll be ready to advance our learning again at Publishing University 2017 in Portland, Oregon. Maybe we'll see you on the ride there!
Contributed by Weegee Sachtjen
It’s Friday night and you’ve just arrived at a kicking cocktail party. As you wander through the crowd, you see faces you recognize. Friends, family, coworkers and even your three best friends from second grade are there. Each one of them brought a few of their associates, former sig others and their 2.3 children.
The music is loud but you are able to catch snippets of people talking about the kitten who was afraid of snow, the pasta they ordered from the new Italian restaurant down the road and the Sharpie picture their four year old drew on the bathroom wall. There are even a few heated political debates.
Standing in the middle of the room, you say the words you have been waiting to say for years: “My first book is finished and is now available for purchase.”
A few of the people near you look up from their discussion on the X-Files series reboot to give you a “thumbs up” sign. Your Aunt Jan on your momma’s side gives you a smiley face.
Not the response you were looking for, you climb on to the table and cup your hands around your mouth and shout, “I wrote a book. It’s awesome. Read it.”
“Cool,” your second cousin twice removed says as he pushes his way toward what looks like a bowl made out of bacon. You notice a few more thumbs up. Someone you don’t know gives you a nod.
Sound like a nightmare way to spend a Friday night? Unfortunately, this is every day for a self-published author trying to promote themselves or their new novel.
I know you know the importance of engaging the audience via social media, Amazon, Goodreads, blogs and websites. But where do you begin? Here are three tips to get you started:
Pick the Platform You Like Using
Most authors feel they have to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat and Aunt Jan’s Kitty Corner Forum. While every platform offers you a different audience, it will drain you. The key here is to know that you don’t have to be on ALL OF THEM. Dig Facebook? Awesome. Love tweeting? #Fantastic. Pick the one YOU like and feel most comfortable using. If you like doing it, you will do it.
Share the Process
Start early and small. Create an “author account” and invite friends and family to like it. Talk about the writing process. Share your highs and lows on your chosen platform, even if it is only to Aunt Jan on your momma’s side. Gradually, you will build up a loyal fan base that is as eager to hear “I wrote a book” as you are to say it. They will hear you over the kitten videos and bacon bowls.
Know Your Strengths
Knowing what it is you are good at will help determine HOW you want to market your book. Some people love interacting with others at book readings, signings, festivals and launch parties. Other people express themselves better from behind a screen—start a blog, follow and comment on other blogs, and write press releases. Focus on what you do well and enjoy it. Your self-published promotion will be less Friday freakshow and more comfortable for everyone.
See you at the next mixer!
Contributed by: Weegee Sachtjen
What makes you a writer?
Some feel you aren’t a writer until you are paid for your craft. Others feel it comes down to the end result of being published.
The truth of it is, writing is not a paycheck or a title. It’s an obsession.
You’re a writer because you feel a compulsion to explore the world around you. You’re a writer because you feel the overwhelming need to share the way your best friend laughs when she is uncomfortable, the way your neighbour has to check the front door four times before leaving for work or that dark side buried in the heart of all of us.
You’re a writer because you obsess over dialogue while walking the dog. You mentally rephrase sentences to make them concise, clear and fierce. You are a writer because you can recreate any memory into a short story in vivid detail.
You’re a writer because it is how you connect. You feel the need to output your viewpoint as a way of processing the world around you. You write to explain the “whys” of the world. You write to say “me too” to others who may be fighting the same struggle.
Lastly, you’re a writer because you can’t stop. You may have every reason to throw in the towel. You could have a stack of rejection letters and a negative bank account but you will still be driven to continue to write.
You’re a writer not because you write. It’s because you HAVE to write.
Contributed By: Sheila Cameron
Are we publishers? Do we have what it takes? Is that what we want to do?
We ruminated over these questions as the early bird deadline for the 28th annual IBPA Publishing University in Salt Lake City approached. The conference was more than three months away, but the decision to attend or not needed to be made.
We stared at the registration page and thought about the journey that brought us here.
It began with an idea for a movie that turned into a full-length novel written by my husband, Mark Cameron. By the time we put the final editing touches on the manuscript, we had made a choice to publish Goodnight Sunshine independently.
The process was like heading out on a cross-country road trip without a GPS or roadmap. Every fork in the road resulted in a decision, a choice or a reconfiguration of how we saw this journey unfolding. What size of print book? White or cream pages? What font size and style? How are the margins? How many copies do we print?
Each choice taught us something about ourselves, and about the journey we’ve embarked upon—lessons about what we’ve done well, and what we could do differently the next time.
The next time. Will there be a next time? Or will we turn the car around and head for home—calling it a day?
We’ve made it this far and something keeps moving us forward. The desire to share the written word with an audience. The wish to see our project through to its completion. The longing to connect and bond with readers. Stories unite, lift, inspire and reveal the depths of the soul in each of us.
Are we publishers? Yes. Is it something we want to do? We think so. Do we have what it takes? We have some applicable skills, one published book, the desire to connect and the drive to learn. And there is so much to learn!
With that in mind, we signed up for the IBPA Publishing University weekend. It looks like our roadmap will take us through Salt Lake City in April. We’ll see where it leads from there ….
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