Archive for December, 2008

Reflections on self-publishing

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008


Self-publishing TBLP was not my first choice.  After I finished writing it, I spent the better part of a year peddling my manuscript around to agents and publishers with nary a flicker of interest.  To many experienced writers, a year doesn’t seem a very long time, but I confess it did to me.  In December 2006 I could see no evidence that I’d ever interest anyone in my novel.  So it was not with excitement or anticipation that I signed up online with iUniverse to self-publish TBLP.  No, I laid down my money with disappointment and a clear sense of unfulfilled dreams.  But those feelings dissipated in time.  My calculation was a simple one.  I convinced myself (and I’m glad I did) that it would be easier to build an audience for my work, and interest agents and publishers if I could actually put a published book in their hands (okay, a self-published book that didn’t look like many self-published books).  I was, and still am, fully aware of the often well-earned stigma of self-published books.  For many readers, self-published works cry out that this writing, this story, this book, is just not worthy of mainstream publishing houses.  The common refrain from critics is that if the quality is there, it will eventually find a home with a publisher.  Intellectually I know this is not necessarily true.  But it’s been true often enough to entrench this belief.  I knew all of this, but went down the self-publishing road anyway, feeling that it at least gave me a chance to get my novel “out there.”

So what’s my view of self-publishing now?  Well despite the success of my rather unorthodox journey to the published land, self-publisihing still wouldn’t be my first choice.  Being published by a mainstream house brings so many benefits that it remains the goal to shoot for if you’re an aspiring writer (as I still consider myself to be).  But, if that route doesn’t pay off, self-publishing is an avenue worth considering if the circumstances are right.  As for my charmed year in 2008?  None of this would have happened had I not first self-published TBLP.  Were it not for the TBLP podcast and iUniverse, there would never have been the Leacock shock, Beverley Slopen, Doug Gibson and McClelland & Stewart, and all that has come since.  So self-publishing worked for me.  But because it has worked and I’ve somehow found a home with M&S, at least for TBLP, I’m hoping I won’t need to resort to self-publishing in the future.  And that was the point of trying it in the first place.  So, not necessarily self-publishing but self-publishing if necessary…

“Browse and Search” with cool new feature

Monday, December 29th, 2008

McClelland & Stewart has introduced a cool new feature on their catalogue website that allows visitors to browse and even search through a book online.  This is the virtual equivalent of picking up a novel in the book store and flipping through its pages.  For TBLP, there are 35 “preview pages” including the title and copyright pages and the entire Prologue.  Then, the first page of each of the next 14 chapters are available to round out the 35 preview pages offered.  The controls are straight-forward and easy to use.  You can even “search” within the book and references will be listed, including those found in the entire novel but not visible in the preview pages.  I assume this feature is designed to close the gap further separating the in-store versus online book shopping experiences.  An interesting use of ever-advancing technology…

A favourite Christmas present…

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

I received many wonderful gifts from family and friends this Christmas and I have much for which to be thankful.  But my in-laws outdid themselves with this amazing photograph of one of my literary heroes, Robertson Davies.  The photo shows Davies at a booksigning at Upper Canada College (which he attended from 1926-32), likely back in 1985, when his novel What’s Bred in the Bone was originally published.

Robertson Davies is quite simply one of Canada’s most gifted writers with an unsurpassed love and mastery of the English language.  In the pantheon of Canadian letters, he is a charter resident.  While he came into the world in 1913, I truly believe he should have been born 50 years earlier.  His writing, while exploring quite contemporary themes, seems of an earlier age when language served to inspire and not just communicate.  He died in early December 1995 and I will never forget attending his memorial service at Convocation Hall (University of Toronto).  Many luminaries spoke including Margaret Attwood, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Davies’ editor and publisher Douglas Gibson.  Yes the same Douglas Gibson whom I’m honoured is now my editor and publisher.  It was an amazing memorial service filled with amusing stories and memories of a life well-lived.  Robertson Davies won the Leacock Medal in 1955 for Leaven of Malice (part of the Salterton Trilogy).  For me, one of the most deeply satisfying and humbling aspects of winning the Leacock this year is seeing my name on a list that also includes Robertson Davies.  It still makes my knees weak and wobbly just to think of it.

So this wonderful photograph means a great deal to me.  It’s being framed even as I write this and within the next week or so will hang prominently in our library where you can find first editions of the 11 novels of Robertson Davies.  The library is also where I write.  I know with Robertson Davies looking over me, I’ll have only to turn my head for inspiration.  A treasured gift indeed…

TBLP and public libraries

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Back in March 2008, I discovered that the Ottawa Public Library had ordered 15 copies of TBLP for its various branches. I was thrilled given that at the time I was just another self-published novelist trying to find readers.  Obviously the Ottawa setting of the novel helped.  I confess that before that time, I’d been more focused on getting TBLP into bookstores and online retailers.  I hadn’t really thought too much about libraries.  But if you consider just how many libraries there are across Canada, and what a critical source of new readers they represent, you quickly come to realize how important our public library system can be to a new author.  In the days after the Leacock announcement and before I signed on with M&S, most of the major libraries across Canada ordered the iUniverse edition (like the Winnipeg Public Library for instance).  So I’ve been curious whether the M&S version of TBLP would also be picked up.  Well, it’s starting to happen, for example in Calgary.  And the folks at Library Bound, a company that supplies public libraries, are helping.  In fact, they’ve featured it on their website in the “Drop in Best Seller” category. (No, I’m not sure what that means either but it sounds good to me.)

Two years later…

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Exactly twelve months ago today, I wrote a post on this blog entitled “One year later…“  The year before that, on December 26, 2006, I keyed in my Visa card number in the appropriate spaces on the iUniverse website and signed up to publish TBLP.  So in my post one year ago, I was reflecting on what an eventful year 2007 had been for me in my nascent life as a weekend writer, which culminated in the release of TBLP in September 2007.  Here’s a brief excerpt from that post exactly twelve months ago:

December 25th, 2007

“…One year later, my novel is widely available online. One year later, TBLP has won the (iUniverse) Editor’s Choice and the Publisher’s Choice honours. One year later, my podcast audience is still growing, and by the comments, still loving the story. One year later, I’ve had a successful Toronto launch and my first book signing. One year later, TBLP has aired on Radioropa, a leading European satellite radio network. One year later, every reader review, and the more formal published reviews have been so positive that most days, I tend to walk a few feet off the ground. One year later, more people have bought TBLP than I could ever have dreamed.”

I was clearly very happy one year ago as you can read.  Who knew that this year would be even better?  I had no idea that 2008 would bring such wonderful developments for me on the literary front.  Let me pick up where last year’s post left off:

December 25th, 2008

Two years later I was shocked and honoured to win the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.  Two years later I was thrilled to join the group of authors represented by the Beverley Slopen Literary Agency.  Two years later, Doug Gibson and McClelland & Stewart have published TBLP making it available in bookstores across Canada.  Two years later I’ve had the thrill of doing readings and speaking gigs at writers festivals with some of Canada’s finest writers including Joseph Boyden, Fred Stenson, Andrew Davidson and Bill Gaston.  Two years later, I’m nearly finished outlining the sequel to TBLP and almost ready to start writing again in earnest.

I certainly don’t mean for this to sound self-congratulatory in any way.  In fact, this is not a litany of accomplishments but rather a counting of blessings.  I write this with an almost overpowering sense of gratitude and a heaping helping of disbelief at my own good fortune.

Two years later, I’m drawn inexorably back to a phrase I blurted out in my impromptu Leacock acceptance speech last April, to describe how I felt about my surprise win.  It remains for me the most apt description, not just of the Leacock shock, but of the whole year.  2008 has been a head-on collision of shock and joy.

And looking ahead to 2009, it’s back to late nights with my laptop, trying to do it all over again with the sequel.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…

Second segment

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I see now that there is a second segment available from the interview I did while in Montreal back in October. In case you haven’t had enough of my argyle sweater (which seems to turn up often when I’m promoting TBLP), here’s the second clip. (The static opening frame shot that sits there until you hit “play” almost always makes me look a little psycho… sigh…)

TBLP in The Suburban’s Gift Guide

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Quebec’s largest weekly newspaper, The Suburban, ran a nice little piece in early December about TBLP.  I did a phone interview with Julia Gerke when I was in Montreal back in October, and this article is the result.  Nice.

TBLP among top 20 Indigo online sellers

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

I just discovered that Indigo online tracks their top-selling products on a daily basis.  TBLP ranked as the 17th top-selling product today, at least until the ever-shifting list is updated.  It’s possible that someone made a large one-time online order and that has perhaps thrust TBLP onto the list temporarily.  (Our commercial realtor for instance has ordered about 75 TBLP to give to his clients as gifts.  Perhaps this is what has put TBLP on the list.)  At any rate, it’s nice to be on the list (any list!) and to be so close to publishing juggernaut Stephanie Meyer!  Who knows where TBLP will be tomorrow…

TBLP a “rare” book? (I don’t think so…)

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Okay, this is a little strange.  Someone pointed me towards this on the Indigo website.  I can’t imagine why anyone would pay this kind of money for the original edition of TBLP.  It’s very strange.  I think it’s probably just a computer program that correlates the number of copies of the book printed and the number available on the open market and arbirtrarily sets an asking price.  I would hardly consider a self-published novel released in September 2007 to be anywhere near “rare” status!  Just another interesting day in the world of book selling.  (But I’m going to hold onto my few remaining original iUniverse editions just in case!)

TBLP sales seem to be ticking along…

Monday, December 15th, 2008

I’ve been keeping one eye on this cool site call BookManager since another author suggested I monitor it.  It apparently tracks independent book stores’ orders of every book available in Canada.  Anything ranking in the top 5,000 is considered to be in “High Demand.”  As we approach the all-important holiday season, TBLP checks in at #673.  (It could change tomorrow but that’s where TBLP is today.)  This is the highest it’s been since I’ve been watching and I’m told that this is good news, particularly as it’s been more than three months since it was published.  By way of comparison, Joseph Boyden‘s Giller-winning novel, Through Black Spruce is at #7 and  The Killing Circle, by Andrew Pyper (great writer, great guy) published in early August, comes in at #8766.  Mind you in the big box Indigo stores, there are hundreds of copies of bestseller Pyper’s novel, many more than there are of TBLP so who knows what it all means…