My friend and fellow writer Mark Leslie Lefebvre just wrote an article for Canadian Bookseller magazine about the rise of free podcasting as a way of building a pre-publication audience for a book. This is the approach I tried out with TBLP. The TBLP podcast was up and available in its entirety many months before the novel was ever published in print. I’m convinced the interest and community engendered through the podcast really helped when TBLP finally became an actual book. The article is interesting and foreshadows possible changes in the world of traditional publishing as more and more authors employ social media tools like blogging and podcasting to drive interest and build audiences. Thanks for the profile Mark!
Archive for May, 2008
On a whim last fall, I submitted TBLP to the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the U.S. in the regional category, Canada-East Fiction. Well many months later, the results were finally announced today. As if winning the Leacock Medal weren’t enough good news, TBLP just won the gold medal. Known as the “Ippy” awards, they recognize excellence in independent publishing, including self-publishing. Now that TBLP will be published by McClelland & Stewart in the fall, and I hope any subsequent books I may write, this may be the only independent Publisher Book Award I’ll ever win.
All of this seems too good to be true. I sure hope I’m not in for a run of bad luck…
I was browsing on Indigo today when I noticed an “Online Bestseller” banner across the top of TBLP. I have no idea exactly what it indicates, beyond I suppose that sales lately have been strong. I’m curious to know what it really means and have e-mailed Indigo in the hopes of finding out. In the interim, I’ve certainly no complaints about being tagged as an “online bestseller.” I guess the Leacock Medal honeymoon continues…
I’m certain I’ve now exhausted my lifetime allocation of good fortune. Yesterday my wonderful agent, Beverley Slopen, confirmed that McClelland & Stewart will publish TBLP as one of its fall releases. M&S is the heavyweight Canadian publishing house with a long and rich history. What’s more, Douglas Gibson, yes the Douglas Gibson, will not only work with me on the manuscript, but the novel will actually be published under his prestigious imprint, Douglas Gibson Books. To me, this outcome is kind of like aiming to win the high school track meet, but instead ending up going to the Olympic Games and bringing home a gold medal. Doug is probably the most respected editor/publisher in the country having worked closely with some of Canada’s and the world’s leading literary lights including Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, and W.O. Mitchell to name but a few. I am over the moon.
As the Globe and Mail article below mentions, there is some irony in this most welcome outcome. Doug and I are actually friends, because our respective wives are close friends. I’ve so enjoyed the times the four of us have spent together. When you’re a passionate reader and weekend writer, nothing is more enjoyable than listening to Doug’s wonderful stories from his illustrious publishing career. It was a discussion with Doug three or four years ago about three-time Leacock Medal winner Donald Jack that ultimately got me off the couch and writing TBLP. Until last week, I’d never really spoken to Doug about my novel. I can only imagine how often he is accosted at parties or conferences by writers hoping that he’ll review their manuscripts. So I chose not to talk about my writing with Doug so as not to complicate the wonderful relationship we have. But after the Leacock Medal, Beverley Slopen did make an approach and the publishing deal was consummated yesterday. I could not be happier and I’m so looking forward to working with Doug.
The M&S edition of The Best Laid Plans, with new cover and interior design, will be launched this fall. I’m counting the days…
Back in February 2007, Steve Paikin, the outstanding host of The Agenda, TV Ontario‘s great nightly public affairs program, was kind enough to interview me about the then unpublished TBLP. Here’s the blog post Steve wrote in the wake of the Leacock Medal announcement:
The Funniest Book In Canada
Back in February of 2007, I interviewed a political wise guy named Terry Fallis. Terry has been around the block in the political world. He now plies his trade at an eponymously named consulting firm.
But once upon a time, he was one of those back room boys who worked for politicians and tried to get them elected.
He’s a smart guy and figured there must be a funny book somewhere inside him, given all of what he’d seen in politics.
So he wrote a book, set on Parliament Hill, and followed the travails of a once naïve, now a bit too cynical back room boy who’s seen too much of politics’ seamy underbelly.
His book is called The Best Laid Plans and Terry rolled it out in unusual fashion.
Once a week, he downloaded a chapter of his work into podcast form on his website. He narrates the action himself. He did it this way because no Canadian publisher would print his work. Not a one.
So rather than wait for that, Fallis got the book into the readers’ hands with the newfangled technology so many of us are using these days. And what do you know: he ends up winning the Stephen Leacock prize for humour.
While the credit is all Terry’s, I take a certain amount of pride in saying we were the first program to interview the author, when, quite frankly, no one was beating his doors down to give him any attention.
So, to see and hear my conversation with Terry Fallis from last February, about his own political history, and his successful political novel, watch this web-exclusive video and enjoy.
Thanks Steve. You were there at the beginning and I’m grateful.
There is not nearly enough distance from the Leacock ceremony for me to offer any kind of perspective on what winning the Leacock Medal for Humour means or will mean to my life as a “writer.” I think I can say with certainty that life after the Leacock will, almost by necessity, be different. In a way, I am already different in my own eyes and likely in the eyes of others. The shock of winning is compounded by the fact that I really had little sense of whether I had written anything worth reading. I was far too close to it to have any literary objectivity. Here’s a passage from my very first post on this blog when I was about to record and publish the very first episode of the TBLP podcast. At this point in January 2007, my manuscript had not yet been submitted to iUniverse to start its long journey to print.
“I spent close to a year writing this book. As a PR professional with over 20 years of political and communications experience, it would not be inaccurate to say that I write for a living. I’m also an avid reader, particularly fiction. Having said that, I’ve been immersed in writing this novel for so long that I fear my sense of perspective has deserted me and may well be filing for divorce. The upshot? I actually don’t know whether this book is any good at all. I honestly don’t. So I’m a little anxious about pulling my pants down and running around in front of all of you. But I finally decided I need to get this story “out there,” for better or worse, to justify all the hours I spent sequestered in my attic office clacking away on my Fujitsu Lifebook.”
In large measure, despite some very positive feedback from people I know and some I don’t, this sense of doubt in what I’d written remains with me. I confess that the Leacock shock helps assuage my fears on this front to a certain extent. As I said in my remarks thanking the Leacock Association for this extraordinary honour, “you have made a weekend writer feel like a bona fide novelist.” While this is true, I think my writing will be better if I never stop wondering and worrying about how the reader will react. Will they enjoy this? Will they stay with me for the whole story? Will they chuckle at this scene? Are they just consuming words or are they invested in the story? Does it all hang together? Am I trying too hard? Have I crossed the line? Etc. etc…
It’s difficult to imagine feeling the same way writing my next book as I did while toiling on the first. It cannot be the same. The first time around, I was just writing for me. It was a personal challenge to see whether I could string 100,000 words together in a way that kept the reader engaged and turning pages. I had no expectations. After last Wednesday, I, and I suppose many others, have expectations. How could I and they not? Yes, everything has changed now, in a most wonderful way, but it has changed. I like change…
Here’s a quick shot of my favourite clipping from the last week. It ran in the Orillia Packet & Times the day after the Leacock announcement. The headline says it all. I would only add that quickly on the heels of shock, came an almost overpowering sense of gratitude. My life as a writer, such as it is, has been irrevocably altered by this wonderful medal that carries with it such history and prestige. I am immensely grateful.
The power of a little media coverage. On a lark, I checked iTunes this morning and was shocked (for the second time this week) to find the TBLP podcast sitting at the number one spot (Arts and Literature). Certainly a Leacock halo effect. I grabbed a screen shot as I don’t imagine it will stay at these lofty heights for long. Bizarre to be ahead of the New York Times Book Review podcast, which is one of my “must listen” podcasts. Just another surreal aspect to a surreal week.
The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, reviewed TBLP today in its wonderful Books section. My stomach has been in knots since I learned today would be the day. I can breathe again. It’s not bad:
More satire, please, we’re Canadian
D. GRANT BLACK
May 3, 2008
THE BEST LAID PLANS
By Terry Fallis
iUniverse, 257 pages, $21.95
A few years ago, CBC-TV foolishly cancelled Snakes and Ladders, a political dramedy set on Parliament Hill. The appetite for more Canadian political intrigue, especially with a satiric bent, is still there. But where do you find it in novel form?
First-time novelist Terry Fallis knew there was an audience. So he penned The Best Laid Plans and shopped it around to Canada’s publishers, but was not offered a book deal. So the tenacious Fallis self-published his 2007 book of fiction through iUniverse.
Fallis also submitted his own book to the judges of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. And this week, The Best Laid Plans won the $10,000 prize, beating out such A-list authors as Will Ferguson and Douglas Coupland.
This self-published wonder should be a cause for concern for the decision-makers at Canada’s faltering publishing houses about what should be jumping out of their slush piles, into print and on to national market.
The Best Laid Plans is not the best book of political satire I’ve read, but it’s amusing, enlightening – and Canadian. It deftly explores the Machiavellian machinations of Ottawa’s political culture, from the grassroots level in a fictitious federal riding during an election campaign, to the Wizards of Ottawa who operate the levers behind the curtain. This is a great platform to create satire that verges on parody.
Fallis, a former Ottawa backroom player who now runs the Toronto PR firm Thornley Fallis, is all too familiar with how the federal political game is played. The Best Laid Plans is written in first person through the eyes of the main protagonist, Daniel Addison, a 32-year-old former speechwriter to the leader of the Liberal opposition.
It’s immediately clear that Addison is a mouthpiece for Fallis’s own political views and the failings in Canada’s Parliament. This is how he starts his prologue: “I could take no more. With the backroom boys still driving Machiavelli’s motor coach, I was just a helpless, hapless passenger as they tossed the public interest under the wheels yet again. Just to be sure, we stopped, backed up, and rumbled over it once more. It was time to bail out. … On Parliament Hill, the pendulum of power swings between the cynical political operators (CPOs) and the idealist policy wonks (IPWs). It’s a naturally regulating model that inevitably transfers power from one group to another – and back again.”
After finishing his PhD on the side, Addison leaves his speechwriting job for a chance to become a tenured English professor at the University of Ottawa. But he owes one more favour to his Grit overlords: Find a Liberal candidate to run in the upcoming federal election against an entrenched Tory incumbent.
Addison’s lame-duck candidate is Angus McLintock, an indifferent 60-year-old Scots immigrant and professor of mechanical engineering. While the other characters are believably drawn, especially the Liberal leader’s obnoxious executive assistant, I struggled with McLintock, who seemed nothing more than a caricature when he was introduced.
McLintock is The Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willie with a PhD. His pedantic tendency to correct people on proper English usage is odd since he speaks in a Scots dialect that sounds as if he just stepped out of an 18th-century Robbie Burns poem: “Aye, I cannae argue with you. Feel free to remind me what it feels like to face a rabble like that the next time me confidence clouds me judgment.”
Eventually, I came around, as the character developed into a chess-playing, hovercraft-building political rebel.
That Fallis’s political satire has won the Leacock could signal a sustained return of the go-for-the-jugular social and political satire missing in Canada these days.
D. Grant Black is a Saskatchewan journalist and editor who has considered self-publishing for his satire project.
Phew! I can certainly live with this…
A friend passed this on to me this afternoon. What a lovely editorial in today’s Orillia Packet & Times:
A Wonderful Orillia story for the nation
Sometimes big things come in little packages.
Such is the case with the Stephen Leacock Associates.
On Wednesday, this small group of hard-working, dedicated volunteers brought national attention to Orillia in announcing the 2008 Leacock Medal For Humour award winner. The news, coming from Swanmore Hall right here in Orillia, was picked up across the country.
Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans, was named the winner of this year’s medal. That was an important moment for the Orillia group as well, in that it underlines the impact the medal has on the publishing world. The publishers of best-selling authors like Will Ferguson and Douglas Coupland rush to have the Leacock Associates seal placed on book jackets as soon as the five finalists are announced, and the stamp of the medal of humour on any cover is a major help in promoting and selling a book.
But the story of Terry Fallis may best illustrate the authority of the medal. His offering was self-published. When his book was named among the top five in Canadian humour for 2008, he almost immediately began to hear from agents and publishers. Winning this medal could well launch another bright light in Canadian letters.
Not bad for a little place like Orillia.
Anchored by the wisdom of people like Pete McGarvey in preserving and promoting the Leacock home as a museum, and upheld by the ongoing strong performance of the museum under current curator Fred Addis, the Leacock legacy is alive and well in this city.
Most of the credit for that goes to people like those who work away in relative anonymity to care for and build upon one of the truly great stories of this community.
Congratulations to you all.
Kind of makes me want to move to the wonderful and picturesque town of Orillia, home of Stephen Leacock.