Sunday, June 30, 2013

What are Your Writing Habits?

A while ago, I came across an interesting article which discussed a book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. As the title indicates, the book explores the habits and rituals of highly creative genius types in all artistic fields. As you’ll read in the article, some of the habits were a little strange, and some downright destructive to one’s health. However, there were some common threads among highly successful writers.

One is that no matter, how busy they were with day jobs or other responsibilities, each found a way to carve out time to write. The length of that time varied greatly. Gertrude Stein, for example, only wrote thirty minutes a day. Interestingly, these writers also worked at the same time every day, regardless of other obligations. It seems that repetition is the key to putting one in a creative state.

Another is that all of the artists recognized the importance of taking a break. Many went for a walk, others took a smoke break, and so on. As writers quickly learn, your mind is still working on your piece whether you’re sitting at the keyboard or with pencil and paper in hand.

A third, somewhat surprising realization was that not all of the highly creative people hated their day jobs. In fact, having a day job made creative time that much more productive. These people didn’t bother with long rituals or mulling over what to write; they just sat down and did it.

Also, many of the artists were big on cleanliness, not only for the obvious reasons, but because a bath or shower also helped them think through problems. For many, (especially those without day jobs) bathing was part of the daily ritual before creation.

I have to say that I've used all of the above, including the day job philosophy, although somehow the genius part hasn’t quite rubbed off on me yet. As technology has changed, I’ve found that taking part in social media a few minutes before writing, is now part of my ritual. And, of course, there’s that necessary cup of coffee! You can read the article, which also contains a link to Currey’s book, at

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Self-Publishing/Traditional Debate Rages On

There’s been so many hot topics to write about this week that I don’t know where to begin, except to say that trash talk in the publishing world is heating up yet again. If I was a new writer starting out and struggling to decide how I should publish my book, this week’s stories wouldn’t help. Those who’ve been following me on this blog know that I’m both self and traditionally published, and that I see the pros and cons to both. For me, it’s always been about making informed choices. The problem is how does a newbie make an informed choice when with statements like this:

“Self-published authors with their insistent need to spam social media and pump out a copious amount of horrible ebooks are ruining the modern online bookstores”. The author of that statement, Michael Kozlowski, posts snapshots of tweets from authors blatantly asking people to buy their books. While Mr. Kozlowski’s article isn’t totally wrong, he isn’t totally right either. He also quotes traditional publishers who are blasting self-publishers, accusing them of underhanded tactics. Again, he’s not lying, but he’s not looking at the whole picture either. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, some of the big six publishers and their authors have resorted to some pretty underhanded tactics to sell books by skewing reviews and buying their way onto certain bestseller lists. I hope Mr. Kozlowski’s prepared for the backlash. To read his piece, go to

One response to his blog by traditionally published author Laura Resnick, offers some insightful thoughts which, among other things, provides good reasons why she doesn’t believe that self-publishing has devalued the book. You can find her response at

Another provocative piece comes from a publisher who’s quoted saying “the problem is that most of the readers love bad books!” Whoo boy, is he trying to acquire hate mail? The publisher, Carl Hanser Verlig from Munich also states that he’s never read an ebook, although he doesn’t care if others do. What makes him nervous, apparently, is when he sees people reading second-rate books, reviewers praising third-rate books, and booksellers displaying bad books in their windows. Although Mr. Verlig has a long, award-winning career in the publishing industry, I’m quite sure not everyone will agree with him. To read more of his comments in publishing, go to

Meanwhile, more headlines and stories this week reveal that author Sylvia Day has sold more than 550,000 print and ebook copies of her latest book, Entwined With You . Day was self-published and is now traditionally published. You can read about her at

And if you need yet more confusion in your life, one of the first self-published stars, Amanda Hocking, who’s now also traditionally published, has sold a second series to St. Martin’s. While she doesn’t rule out the possibility of self-publishing again, she’d rather let someone else work on the editing, jacket design, and typesetting so she can write. You can read more at

And so the debate, and successes, and trash talk rages on. These are fun times, aren’t they?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Self-Pub v Trad Pub: 3 Reasons I Like Each

I was going to make these lists 5 items long, but I got long-winded, so I'm only doing three of each. Besides, my reasons kept getting subsumed in the general headings. I'm not mentioning small indie presses, because they can emulate the best of both.

Self-Publishing provides these benefits for readers and authors:
  1. Niche publishing: Since the advent of self-publishing, biographies and memoirs no longer have to be by celebrities or people with big or exotic stories to tell. A cousin of my husband self-published a biography of his grandfather, my husband's uncle. I read a self-published biography of an old woman who taught everyone who knew her to be joyful and spread joy. Neither of those would have been published traditionally, but they were well worth reading. Quirky fiction can find -- indeed, can create -- a niche.
  2. Responsiveness: If the formatting in a self-published eBook, which looked perfect in Preview, is wonky on a buyer's eReader, the author can be personally contacted, the book can be corrected, and the updated version can be online within days at the longest. The relationship between a self-published author and readers is, on the whole, much closer than that between most traditionally published authors and readers.
  3. Control: The self-published author can choose whether or not to have professional help. If the author chooses to publish without being critiqued or edited, to make their own covers, to publish but not promote, and then let buying happen or not happen, the author can choose to do so. If the author chooses to only publish digitally, only publish in print, or do both, if the author chooses to be exclusive to one platform (Amazon, Kobo, iTunes) or to distribute as widely as possible or to have the book only available as a PDF download from a website, so be it. If the author wants to price the book at $100 or free, so be it.
Traditional Publishing, on the other hand, has these benefits:
  1. Readers can, on the whole, expect a certain level of technical quality from traditionally published books. The story may be less than stellar or may be superb, but the spelling, grammar, and punctuation will most likely be correct. If poor proofreading puts you off (it does me), you want to buy from a traditional publisher (or good small and/or indie press). If you feel you need help in those regards as a writer, and you can sell your work to a traditional publisher, you can have those things done for you. Traditional publishers will handle the covers, too, with no input from the author.
  2. Variety of formats: While many self-published authors and small presses publish only electronically, most traditional publishers publish mainly in print, with electronic offerings. Bigger-ticket books may be published in more than one paperback format and in hardback, and may be issued as audiobooks. As a reader, I like these choices. I'll sometimes buy or download free an eBook and, if I really like it, buy it in paperback; if I LOVE it, I'll buy it in hardback. 
  3. As an author, I concede that The Big Six (or however many of them there are at the moment) have a lot of clout. Movie deals and international publishing deals are more likely through major publishers, as of this writing, anyway. As a reader, I'm more likely to find a book if it comes from a house with advertising dollars to get it in front of my eyeballs. It's more likely that people I meet will have read it so we can talk about it.
The variety of paths from one person's imagination to another's has grown and will go on growing. What are some reasons you, as a writer and/or reader, love one or more of the paths?

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Still Deciding Whether to Self-Publish or Go the Traditional Route?

Last week, I was selling my self-published Alex Bellamy mysteries (and handing out bookmarks for the traditionally published Casey Holland series) at Creative Chaos Craft Fair, which apparently is one of the largest craft fairs in western Canada. Creative Chaos welcomes authors, but has strict guidelines about what we can sell. In other words, they must be made by the authors and not commercially made by traditional publishers.

This was Creative Chaos’ 38th year of operation and I had the good luck to have a table beside a lovely woman who’d been on the craft fair’s Board of Directors for seven years. In fact, the terrific people on the other side of me were also veterans of this fair, so I had lots of tips and advice about what to expect. Interestingly, not much of it turned out the way they expected, but that’s craft fairs for you. Every year’s different and unpredictable.

One of the things they noted was the increase in self-published authors over the years. As somebody who tries her best to keep tabs on the publishing world, this wasn’t a surprise to me, but what I found interesting was the variety of titles on the tables. Authors were selling everything from young adult fantasy, to children’s books, to memoirs.

All this ties in with an interesting blog I came across by author David Farland. Farland earns a living with his books, both traditionally and through self-publishing. Writers often ask him which type of publishing they should pursue. His answer is that it’s complicated and not always an either-or decision.

There are a number of factors to consider, Farland says, such as the type of book you’ve written, your age, your expectations, and the type of person you are, for starters. He does say that certain books seem to do better in the self-publishing world such as self-help books and romance. He has mixed feelings about westerns, fantasy, horror, science fiction, and comedy.

Personally, I’d also emphasize (which could come under Farland’s type of person category) how strong your commitment is to taking full responsibility for promoting your book on a long-term basis. As all of us in the business know, it could be years before your work starts to take off. Anyhow, Farland has some interesting insights, which I recommend you read (especially if you’re still undecided about your publication choice) at

Monday, June 10, 2013

Good News from the Writers’ Union of Canada

The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and what better way to celebrate than by voting unanimously to pass a resolution to admit membership to self-published authors? This warrants a big applause for me, as I’m both traditionally and proudly self-published, and have long been irritated by the way certain organizations, not to mention conferences, have treated self-published authors like second class citizens. The resolution will be presented to members in a referendum, and a two-thirds majority will be needed to make this official.

As you’ll note from the link to TWUC’s press release, three criteria must be met before gaining membership. The books must have an ISBN, the author must “demonstrate commercial intent” and also be peer reviewed. You can read more about this at

The times are indeed changing, however, as so many traditionally published authors have opted for self-publishing, and self-published authors are making bestseller lists and gaining readers all over the world, how can any organization not review their own regulations and requirements? As someone who was self-published years before I signed with a publisher, I’ve never belonged to the TWUC, but you know, I’ll give this serious consideration, after the referendum, and more information about what exactly is involved in the peer review process. Every club and organization has conditions with respect to joining, so let’s hope the TWUC's process is a reasonable and fair one.

Friday, June 07, 2013

What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion?

I don’t generally give advice about book promotion since so many authors are better at selling books than I am, but if I had to, I’d tell other novelists to have patience, stamina, and willingness to give up part of their writing time for promotion. Unless a writer has the benefit of a major publisher’s publicity department, and sometimes even then, he/she will have to spend time promoting their book. It’s not enough to have a blog dedicated to self-promotion or to add thousands of friends on Facebook. You have to give people something to get something — write interesting articles, comment on articles other people write, get to know your Facebook connections. And most important of all, check out Book Marketing Floozy. It’s an indexed blog with how-to articles on every facet of promotion.

Here are some responses from other authors about advice they would give to other novelists about book promotion. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Debra Purdy Kong, Author of “The Opposite of Dark”

I’d advise writers to use patience and not expect too much right away. Promotion means engaging with others and building a rapport with potential readers. It means building a solid, longterm platform through social networking, blogging, and designing your website. It can seem daunting, but if you limit your time each day, then you won’t risk burnout. And burnout is a big factor for writers who are also actively promoting!

From an interview with Joylene Nowell Butler, Author of “Broken but not Dead”

If you’ve gone to all the trouble of writing and revising and querying, why not market? Why not spend hours blogging and visiting other blogs and establishing a connection to like-minded writers? I’m still astonished when authors tell me they don’t have time to blog and they certainly don’t have time to visit other blogs. They just want to fill your inbox with news of their book and why it’s important for you to buy it. They’re targeting the wrong people. Writers write, readers buy books. Yet how many emails do you receive in a week telling you why you should buy their book?
Promotion is about creating a presence online. But it’s also about getting out and doing readings, signing copies, writing related articles, doing online, radio and newspaper interviews, joining evening events where the opportunity to read arises. It’s about fairs, bazaars, contests, giveaways, and anything else you think will put you and your book in the public eye.

What about you? What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion?
(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire and follow the instruction.)


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Is the Ebook Revolution Slowing Down?

A couple of years ago, many articles and stats showed that ebook sales were rising at a dramatic rate in almost all writing categories. In fact, the rise was over 100% in some genre fiction, but is this still the case? I guess it depends on who you read and which stats you believe, but here are a couple of pieces that reflect recent sales data in both Canada and the U.S.

Most of the data reflects that ebook sales are still on the rise, but not at the rate they were two or three years ago. Perhaps, this won’t surprise you as many book buyers still buy books as gifts, particularly during the Christmas season. So far, few readers are gifting ebooks to someone else, but it will be interesting to see if this changes over time.

An article in the Ottawa Business Journal seems to think that ebook sales are plateauing, based on survey conducted by BookNet Canada, involving 4,000 book-buying consumers. They state that paperback sales made up 58% of all sales in Canada in 2012, hardcovers came in at 24%, and ebooks represented 15%, noting that both Kobo and Kindle are popular brand names in this country. Not surprisingly, digital sales peaked in the first quarter of 2012, which is when everyone’s happily loading the e-readers they received for Christmas. Also not surprisingly, ebook sales were at their lowest during the last quarter, or the Christmas gift-giving season. You can find more info at

In the U.S., BookStats also undertook a survey and found that ebook sales account for 20% of all book sales. Although this is a 15% increase from 2011, ebook sales are not rising at the rate once predicted in that country either. In fact, 65 new independent bookstores have opened recently and unit sales increased by 8% in 2012. As you’ll read in the New York Times article, publishers who attended the annual Book Expo America convention are breathing a sigh of relief at what they perceive, or hope, is stabilization in the bookselling industry. But is it really? I don’t know. It seems to me that the only constant in the publishing industry is change, and that all of us writers, publishers, booksellers, and librarians, need to do our best to keep up. To read the article, go to