Sunday, September 29, 2013

Not All Events Are Created Equal

Last year, after the first event of Christmas craft fair season, I was disappointed by the lackluster sales compared with the same event the previous year. I was talking about it with a veteran of this particular fair, who said “Hey, it’s a crapshoot. You just never know how things’ll turn out.” Wise words indeed. Two weeks later, I attended a similar event and sold double what I’d hoped for.

When you’re relying on weather for a turnout, then the stakes are higher. I exhibited at an outdoor event in August. In our part of the world, an August rainfall is unlikely, however, this year was an exception. The farm we were exhibiting at was situated in a valley known for damp, dewy mornings. I should have known I was in for it when all of the other exhibitors—experienced outdoor sellers to be sure—brought tents, or at least a solid canopy. I brought an umbrella and a plastic sheet to cover my books, which turned out to be a good idea because the rain came in spurts on and off all day. I lost count of the number of times we pulled the plastic sheet on and off.

This year’s WORD event (formerly known as Word on the Street)  took place over the weekend culminating in the festival’s main event on Sunday. By all accounts, the weather wasn’t looking cheery. There’d been a storm on Saturday and forecasters warned about another one for Sunday. This prompted the organizers to move everything indoors. For those of us scheduled to display our books outside the Vancouver Public Library’s perimeter, this was a godsend.

Although it was lovely to be in a warm, dry area, some of the tables were smaller and the environment was cramped. Passersby couldn’t find the table they were looking for as the program map was now useless. The walking space between the two rows of tables was narrow and the white noise was a loud, constant din. I’m pretty sure that most people were put off by the weather to begin with, and attendee numbers seemed to be significantly down.

But, hey, these things happen. It wasn’t a stellar selling day, but so what? I had a chance to see writing colleagues I hadn’t seen in months and catch up on their lives, and—because I was a panelist—I received a spiffy new T-shirt for my trouble. Would we have loved more sales? Of course. Was the day a complete bust for me? Absolutely not. Will I go again next year, rain or shine? You bet. Crapshoots are becoming my thing.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Do I Write? Let Me Count the Ways

Okay, I admit it: I am a closet pencilphile. Seems silly, I know, in this electronic age, but I write in pencil on loose-leaf paper. There. I’ve outed myself. I feel so much better now.

I am not being contrary. I do have reasons. I have a better mind/writing connection using pencil and paper than I have with a keyboard; a mechanical pencil is easier on my fingers than pen, and paper is easier on my eyes than a computer screen.

(The above photo is the handwritten copy of A Spark of Heavenly Fire.)

For me, fiction writing is largely a matter of thinking, of trying to see the situation, of figuring out the right word or phrase that puts me where I need to be so the words can flow. I can do this better in bed, clipboard propped against my knees or on a pillow than sitting at a desk. If, as Mel Gibson said, “A movie is like public dreaming,” then novels are like shared dreaming, and where better to dream than in a comfortable bed?

I don’t know the entire story before I writing, but I do know the beginning, the end, and some of the middle. That way I can have it both ways: planning the book and making room for surprises.

I need to know a bit about the hero, but most of the time I get to know the characters the same way a reader would — by the way the characters act. In my work-in-progress, I thought I had a mother who was manipulative, but a reader pointed out that if that’s what I wanted, I needed to show it better. I reread the sections with the mother and decided not to impose my will on her. Although she drove her son crazy, I saw her in the rereading as sad, as if she were trying to find a way to fit in the world or make it fit her, and that was much better for purposes of the story.

I need to write the story in the order it happens — it’s more satisfying for my logical mind and easier to keep track of — but if I get to a place where I know something happens without knowing what, I will skip it and go back later when I know what is missing.

So, there you have it. That’s how I write.

What about you? How do you write? Do you have a favorite place or a place that puts you in the proper frame of mind? Do you write from start to finish, or like Margaret Mitchell, do you start with the last chapter and work forward? Do you have to search for the words?


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter 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.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Beneath the Bleak New Moon Released!

My third Casey Holland mystery has finally been released to the public. I waited a long time for this, and there were many obstacles along the way, but tenacity is everything in this business.

The idea for the book came to me one night several years ago while I was working in the fashion department at Zellers. At the end of evening shifts, my job was to straighten the racks and fold sweaters to return to the display tables. Oddly enough, this was one of my favorite tasks. It was relaxing and gave me time to think. Most of what I thought about was which piece of writing I would work on next. Back then, I was still working on my second Alex Bellamy novel, several short stories, and the first two Casey novels…crazy times … slow, but productive.

One night, I was heading home on a dry, chill October night. There’d been updated news coverage about a pedestrian who’d been killed by one of two vehicles in a street race many months earlier. Of course, the tragedy was originally a hit-and-run, but the racers were eventually caught, tried and convicted, and one of them deported. As those events slowly unfolded over the years, more people died.

I can’t tell you how many deaths there’ve been in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland this month alone, as school has reconvened, and the sunny weather has inspired pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists to share the roads with distracted, bleary-eyed drivers.

As a transit officer who rides the buses a lot, Casey would have seen more than her share of accidents. This book opens when she witnesses a hit-and-run, tries to help the victim, and fails.

One of the things I also thought about while folding all those sweaters was how wonderful it would be to have five books published one day. Well, now that it's happened, the time has come for new publishing goals. I should probably go find some sweaters to fold.

The book is available through e-book formats and in print, and you can find links through my newly created website at

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Trilogy and a Trick

All three books of the SAGE trilogy are now available in paperback and for Kindle. I think the thing I'm proudest of about these books is that, although fans of heroic fantasy like them, people who don't ordinarily like heroic fantasy tend to like them, too.

In trying to figure out why, I've decided it's partly an oddity in the rather poetic way I use language in these books, coupled with the ordinary motives of the characters. The combination is both grounded and otherworldly.

Usurper. Lost Heir. Runaway bride. Land on the brink of civil war. All so familiar, until Tortoise -- the Divine Creature who ignores the rules of right and wrong -- challenges his fellow divinities to meddle. Suddenly, children targeted for murder are adopted, swordsmen turn into blacksmiths, and none are reliably who or what they seem. The four Divine Animals are afoot: Tortoise, Dragon, Unicorn, and Phoenix. Hold on tight.

The Fall of Onagros,
SAGE Book 1
In the first book of the SAGE trilogy, a legacy is lost, a woman vanishes into thin air, wisdom is found in unexpected places, and a man hopes to defeat a tyrant with tall tales and gossip.

Bargain With Fate,
SAGE Book 2
The mighty are helpless, the weak are strong, and a little girl clutches creatures of terror to her ragged heart.

Silver and Iron,
SAGE Book 3
The contention over the throne of Layounna is fought on strange battlegrounds: an island, a henyard, a scrivenry, a pocket, and the heart of the chief claimant.


And what's the trick? you ask. See that link that says That's a mighty mighty Amazon redirect that directs your click to the Amazon national portal appropriate to your browser. So, if you're reading this in Canada, clicking on that link SHOULD take you to Amazon's Canadian website. If you're in America, you go to If you're in France, vous allez à Is that cool, or what?

 If you want to know more about the books, including reading the first chapters of each, visit The SAGE Page at my blog.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Look How Far Self-Publishing Has Come

In an increasingly digital age, the mystery writing community has noticed a marked decrease in the amount of print space reviewers are giving books these days. A number of Canadian newspapers have substantially cut back their review sections, although some are maintaining a strong electronic presence.

As anyone in the self-publishing business knows, acquiring reviews is still challenging, however it’s better than it used to be. When I first published Taxed to Death in 1995, willing reviewers were few and far between, yet there were plenty of independent bookstores around to help sell my book. By the time Fatal Encryption came out in 2008, 95% of the independent stores were gone, however, an abundance of bloggers and online reviewers agreed to review my book. Still, getting the book reviewed by a major publication was nearly impossible.

Imagine my delight when I read in The Atlantic Wire this week that Publishers’ Weekly is expanding their self-published review section from a bi-monthly to monthly event (before that it was quarterly). Addressing the self-publishing explosion, PW’s co-editorial director Jim Milliot says, “It’s really become a part of publishing—that’s the bottom line. It’s certainly not stigmatized in any way.”

Holy cow! Publishers’ Weekly is saying that self-publishing is no longer stigmatized? I never thought I’d hear those words. But it shows you how far the self-published industry has come on some levels. I say on some levels because the article also discusses the Fifty Shades of Gray phenomenon, quoting another source who says that Fifty Shades is the future of publishing, but that one shouldn’t mistake form for substance.

We could debate forever the spectrum of quality among self-published books, but that would take too far long here. In fact, I’ll leave that to the  PW reviewers. I’m just glad to see mainstream reviewers acknowledge that self-publishing is not only here to stay but deserves more space on their pages.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Will You Be a MatchBook Person?

If you’ve been following the week’s headlines in the publishing biz, you will have heard that Amazon’s announced a new bookselling endeavor called the MatchBook program. The Kindle aspect of the program will allow anyone who’s purchased a print book from Amazon since 1995 to purchase the e-book version at a reduced rate, which could be anywhere from free to $2.99. I might have missed it in the material I read, but there was no reference to buying a reduced price print copy if you’d already purchased the e-book. What it does mean, though, is that if you sign up for the program,  you can buy both, presumably at reduced prices although, as far as print goes, this isn’t clear to me either.

According to an article in, the program is scheduled to launch in October and already has 10,000 books listed. As stated in the article, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of books out there. The program for both self-publishers and traditional publishers is voluntary, however, Amazon maintains that this is a great option for publishers and authors, as it will increase their revenue stream.

As you can imagine, the marketing strategy has stirred up controversy. Some love the idea and others hate it, stating why would you want to buy the same book twice? Yet some people like to read print at home, but e-books while commuting or traveling. So far, HarperCollins has joined the program, but others aren’t quite so quick to jump in.

An article in states that the concept of bundling has been considered for years in the publishing business. That Amazon is the one to take this initiative in a big way irritates anti-Amazon folks. Whether it will prove to be a great strategy, or an unsuccessful bid to upsell remains to be seen.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you be willing to pay for both the print and e-book versions? What else have you heard about the program?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Learning From Others

I came across an interesting blog by an author named Bob Mayer who has written 53 books and made bestseller lists. In his blog, Mayer lists ten things he’s learned as a writer, many of which I’ve also learned over the years.

Two things struck me about his piece: one was that his bio says he’s sold five million copies of his work, yet I hadn’t heard of him. I admit that I’m not the most well-read person out there, but I’m trying to read as many authors as I can; however, neither do I live under a rock. One of the things Mayer says that he did wrong was not network enough when he was a traditionally published author. Now that he’s an indie author he’s learned the value of doing this, and now I’ve heard of him. This has happened before. A multi-published author I didn’t know existed has become indie, and now I hear that person’s name on different sites. Could it be that indie authors are trying harder at promoting and networking than traditionally published authors, especially those who’ve already many copies of their books?

Two of the ten points Mayer makes really hit home with me. One is that the best promotion you can do for yourself is to keep writing good books. I’ve heard this said by others and I think it’s true. Rather than spinning our wheels registering for every networking site under the sun, why not pick three favorites, restrict one’s time, and get back to writing? I see so many indie authors endlessly promoting and commenting on forums that I’m amazed they get any work done.

Here’s another point that’s really sunk in with me lately: being a writer and being a business person are two equally important aspects of this job. Both need each other to survive. Now, when I say be a business person, I don’t mean merely improving one’s social networking skills, I mean getting out in the community, meeting business people, and making connections that will help you grow your business, establish your brand, and sell more books. How many writers actually belong to a small business association in their community?

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those ah-ha moments, when a Facebook acquaintance saw my announcement of the arrival of my latest book, Beneath the Bleak New Moon. She’s joined the small business community in our area, and invited me to take part in an upcoming event. I wasn’t convinced that a small business expo would be the right fit for me, however, after a discussion with the group’s organizer, the epiphany came again. I am a business person as much as a writer, and I need to improve networking opportunities face-to-face in my own community. I started taking steps in this direction three years ago when I began selling at craft fairs. Now, I’m ready to expand my world from one of crafters to business people. It feels right at this time in my life, and I’m looking forward to the adventure.