Merci! Gracias! and other thoughts about my book launch


Friday May 2nd, fifty or so people gathered for the launch of Lockdown my debut novel. The weather was kind, the assistants from the Young Writers' Club were helpful and enthusiastic, and the mc's were wonderful.
Certain thank you's are in order -

  • to my two wonderful mc’s at Friday night’s book launch, Lisa Voisin and Lynn Crymble.
  • to the members of the Young Writers’ Club who helped set up the room and worked on the draw for the door prizes.
  • to my family who have encouraged me every step of the way. 
  • to all of you who showed up to support my launch.
  • to those who could not make it but sent congratulations and encouragement.
  • to my publisher, Great Plains Publications, without whom there would have been nothing to launch.

What lies ahead?

Perseverance of a decapitated tree by Wing Chi Poon

Nobody told me there’d be days like this sang John Lennon. When I looked at what lies ahead of me this week, I was reminded, once again, how little I knew about the publishing industry when I started. Here’s a mud map of what may be necessary, after you’ve polished your novel and got it fit for general consumption:

1. Master the art of writing a query letter, which is infinitely more difficult than writing the book itself. Writer’s Digest offers Ten Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter. Janet Reid’s Query Shark site gives examples of what turns agents off in actual submissions. Then there’s the whole question of whether you should seek an agent or go directly to a publishing house. Di Bates has a good discussion of Literary Agents on her site Writing for Children. One thing is certain, unless you intend to self publish, your query letter will open or close doors for you.

Word count: 474                                                                             Reading time: 1-2 minutes

2. Develop a web presence. Or should you? There’s a question for a search engine! It seems logical that if you want people to be interested in your work, it’s probably best if they can find you. It is sometimes suggested that this step should precede step 1, that agents and publishers are people too.

3. Familiarize yourself with the basics of contract law, or at least develop the tenacity to wade through legal documents. Even if you self publish you need to understand what to expect under the T&C’s (terms and conditions) of your contract.

4. Prepare yourself for editorial input. Allow time for more revision.

5. Before the book is published, assemble a press kit and gear up for what Jill Corcoran calls Book Marketing and Sell-Through.

6. Be prepared for a book launch or even a book tour. Start researching these events well before your launch date. If your publisher doesn't support these events, look for inexpensive ways of hosting your own.

7. Investigate the possibility of a blog tour which is a less physical way of creating buzz for your work but also very time consuming.

8. Between all this – start working on your next novel because if people like your voice, they’ll want more and you’ll want to deliver.

I’m on step four of this list and the road ahead looks exhilarating, to say the least. No one told me it would be so demanding at the outset but I would have soldiered on even if they had. I’m nothing if not perseverant. I’ve had setbacks and false hopes but I keep Winston Churchill’s advice – never never never give up – close to my heart.

What part of the writing journey has surprised you the most? Have you encountered obstacles that you just didn’t anticipate when you started the deceptively simple ambition of telling a story that was burning in your head?


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Been there, done that, what's next?

Last Saturday, for the first time, I appeared in public as a writer. Another milestone now behind me. Some people are attracted to such events like butterflies to bright flowers. I’m more like a unicorn; I’d rather not be seen. However, remaining anonymous is a luxury no 21st century writer can afford. In the Forbes’ article, Five Lessons For Authors and Self-Publishers, Neil Gaiman tells writers that you have to get out there, you have to be a part of your community, and you have to be the signal, not the noise.  

Word count: 600                                                        Reading time: 1-2 minutes

I accepted the invitation to join the panel because I knew I needed to. In days before the event, I reminded myself of Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: Do one thing every day that scares you.  It’s not like I’m naturally timid and desperately in need of that advice. I’ve travelled to Europe alone, I’ve moved across Canada by myself, I’ve moved across the Pacific. Twice. I’ve camped in the Outback and scuba dived in the icy waters of the Pacific Northwest. But none of those were as daunting as public speaking.

I prepared myself as best I could. I read aloud, into a voice recorder, and forced myself to listen to it. I asked the moderator if I needed to bring notes on any subject but she said no, it would just be informal questions and answers. I sang at the top of my lungs on my way to the library where the festival was held. This seemed to strengthen my vocal chords or at least clear the cobwebs. I couldn’t be more ready, or so I thought.

Then there was a moment of horror when the moderator asked us all to speak, for three to five minutes, on our journey to publication. If you’ve followed this blog, you know I’m not yet published. I have a contract to publish. I do not yet have a book in my hand but the organizers considered that an important point in the road and thus I was included. As the junior panel member, it was natural that I’d be first off the mark. But I hadn’t brought notes.

Being first meant I didn’t have the benefit of gathering my thoughts as others spoke. So I took the microphone (another first) and winged it. I tried to speak slowly, not my usual geyser rush of words. I made eye contact with members of the audience. The session went on for an hour and a half. I seem to remember being on my feet a fair bit of it. I wonder what I said. I really can’t remember.

As Robert Brockway states in the blog, Writing is the easy part, the burden of promotion and marketing now falls squarely on the writer’s shoulders. The North Shore Writers’ Festival was my first chance to test the waters of getting known, of a little self-promotion.

When it was all over, I realized I’d learned a lot:

  • People who attend writers’ festivals are incredibly supportive.
  • When a speaker makes eye contact with an audience member, and she nods in agreement, it’s incredibly helpful. It lets the speaker know she is understood.
  • People who go up to a speaker after a talk and say something like, “that was really interesting” make the speaker’s day.
  • I will be a better audience member from now on.

Have you ventured into some peripheral realm of writing that you dreaded, only to discover it wasn’t nearly as bad as you expected? Or was it even worse? Where have your greatest joys and biggest disappointments been?


Photo by: Raksit

What does it take?

"If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results." Emily Brontë. How would she view the cyber arena of writing?

Word count: 374   Reading time 1-2 minutes

The internet has moved the goalposts for 21st century writers. Now, among other things, we are now supposed to:

  • Read a lot.
  • Write a lot.
  • Write a mission statement.
  • Join a writers’ group (for fellowship)
  • Join a critique group (for feedback).
  • Take courses.
  • Join a book club. At least one.
  • Attend writing conferences and festivals.
  • Build a platform, a brand: blog, tweet, join facebook, LinkedIn, read other blogs, comment on other blogs.  
  • Build a professional bio.
  • Be camera friendly.
  • Pitch books in live situations or, at the very least, start the bruising process of querying agents and publishers.

After the book deal:

  • Teach or mentor other writers.
  • Organize a book launch.
  • Organize appearances and book signings.
  • Visit booksellers and book buyers.
  • Organize a book tour.
  • Start again at the top of the list.

While these suggestions only scrape the surface of the recommendations I’ve found, this list, even in its pared-down form, triggers a breathless claustrophobia in me. It doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for the two essentials of writing and reading. What are the choices? Few, as far as I can tell, so I pick and choose the things that I hope will build a robust writing career.

Still, that list makes me wonder how the 20th Century’s five most reclusive writers would fare if they were to publish their books today. Georgette Heyer, who sold her first book at age 17 and wrote 55 more over the next 50 years, granted only one interview in her entire life. Would she have flopped in the cyber age?

In the end, as interesting as it to compare the current writing world to days gone by, it’s best not to spend too much time thinking about it. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign place. They do things differently there.”

What are you doing to build your writing career? Are all these things simply too much for one person? How do you choose and what do you choose?


Photo from Wikimedia commons, Dan English

Quiet Please. Woman at Work.

Word count: 345                  Reading time: 2-3 mins

The noise is killing me! I’m not talking about auditory noise, I’m talking about psychological noise that can paralyze a writer. I’ve got books, magazines, and audio files on how to write. I’ve taken courses online and in the flesh. Whenever I sit down to the keyboard I can channel a dozen voices on how to proceed. All of them contradict each other.

A deafening maelstrom was already brewing when I went to a seminar held by The Writers’ Union of Canada called Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape. Presenter Ross Laird said that the internet is the single biggest change in publishing since the invention of the Gutenberg Press. Writers need a platform he insisted. I answered his challenge; I reserved my own domain name.

Eventually I even launched this website which increased the level of noise around me. Then I had to find readers for it. Answer: Twitter. These two steps turned up the volume even louder.

Twitter, at any given second, has people offering topnotch advice and links to highly relevant blogs. It is such an irresistible force that I have to discipline myself to look at it no more than once a day. Otherwise the voices I want to hear – those of my characters – are drowned.

In the Writer’s Digest magazine, Writing for Kids & YA, Sherman Alexie offered this advice “Every word on your blog is a word not in your book.” There’s a voice I need to listen to! I’m going to stop this right now, right here. It’s time to get back to writing. Until the next time I hear the sirens call.

Can you hear through all the noise around you? What voices are you listening to?


With a special thank you to Jessica Klassen for the January 26th tweet that inspired this blog.

PS As if to prove my point, when I tried to post this blog 6 hours ago, the webhost's software kept locking me out. But what's half a day lost in the great time drain of the internet?


Photos by: (above) picstudio (left) drbimages