Monday, 26 September 2016

Deadly Dames in Paris

 (Re-posted with permission from with thanks to Susan Gibson)

The County of Brant Library (Paris Branch) hosts some terrific events for aspiring authors and invited the Deadly Dames to participate in a discussion about writing crime, mystery and suspense.  This quintet of authors form a writers group and share a love for their craft. The authors each gave a reading followed by a moderated discussion and a question and answer period.  These writers were all women who had experienced other careers and were examples that it was possible for the audience to meet goals to become authors.  The panel included:

  • Joan O’Callaghan –  A previous high school English teacher, Joan now instructs at the University of Toronto.  She is a freelance writer and has written fiction, short-stories  and a memoir about her late husband.
  • Melodie Campbell – Also known as the “Queen of Comedy” by the Toronto Sun, she read from the 4th book in her series, The Goddaughter Caper, which is set in Hamilton.  She got her start writing standup and currently teaches writing at Sheridan College.
  • Janet Bolin – Janet writes “cozy mysteries” and starts her writing by inventing “punny” titles like Seven Threadly Sins.  I had never heard of this genre which the books can be referred to as “cozies”.  Basically, these books are crime fiction that is often set in a  small town with sex and violence downplayed or treated with humour.
  • Catherine Astolfo – Catherine is a retired school principal who started writing at the age of 12 but professionally began by writing “how-to” manuals for teachers.  She  likes to combine mystery with social justice issues and has written novels with the setting of Brantford and Brant County.  I have purchased a copy of Sweet Karoline and am hoping to that my book club will invite her to discuss her novels.
  • Alison Bruce – This author has had many careers including copywriter, editor, graphic designer, comic store manager, small press publisher, webmaster and bookkeeper. She is the author of mystery, romantic suspense and historical western romance novels and is able to incorporate the research from editing non-fiction writing into her stories.  She strives to write stories that will have “re-readability”

My question to the panel was what they were all reading and how they balanced reading with their writing and while they all are avid readers, they all enjoy different books.
  • Melodie shared that she reads about 100 books a year by reading for an hour each night.  She had recently read The Nest and found it underwhelming (I certainly agree with that)!  She noted that she had done a casual survey in one of her classes where students read an average of 7 books a year – as a student, I had to stop reading for pleasure or I would have struggled to get my work done so I hope that this is the case and that these students will pick up their reading once they are finished their course.
  • Catherine also reads to go to sleep and has recently been reading the newest Louise Penny novel, A Great Reckoning.  Catherine is currently writing scripts and reading provides the inspiration to keep her motivated.
  • Joan takes an eclectic approach to her reading which she does during her 45 minute subway rides and before bed.  She has recently read The Princes of Ireland, The Camel Club and How to Grow a novel.
  • Alison described herself as a “binge reader” who reads most days and when a new author publishes, she tends to go back and read all of their work.  She loves to re-read and generally has at least 2 books on the go at a time.  She reads on her phone whenever there is time and enjoys audio-books and podcasts as she does her design work.
  • Janet reads for the Evergreen Awards (this was the theme for my August book club and the 2016 contest included Under the Visible Life, They Left us Everything and Birdie which I enjoyed reading).  Janet participates in a local library book club and is reading Still Life with Breadcrumbs.  She also reads to before bed and during the frequent power outages which are experienced in Port Burwell.
The group agreed that it is difficult to “read the same way” after being published.  The audience chuckled as they shared their intolerance for poor beginnings, spelling errors and bad grammar.  The all concurred that they are highly appreciative of well-crafted novels.
It was an interesting afternoon and these women form an active, positive and supportive writing group.  The audience left feeling that it is possible to write and publish a novel and could purchase autographed copies of their books.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Guest Blogger Rosemary McCracken

Keep backstory way back!

Joan, it’s great to visit you on Day Four of my Raven Lake blog tour. I thought I’d share my views on backstory with your followers today. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, and I go over it thoroughly in the very first class of my course, How to Develop Your Novel, at Toronto’s George Brown College.

Creating a protagonist’s backstory—his or her “life story” before the novel opens—is essential for a writer in developing a novel. But determining how much of it to reveal to readers and how far along in the story to do so, is equally as important. As the word implies, backstory should be kept in the background.

My protagonist Pat Tierney had a life before readers met her in Safe Harbor, the first novel in my mystery series. She grew up in Montreal as Patty Kelleher, and her handsome older brother, Jon, was her idol. Her world was shattered when Jon was killed in a car crash in his final year of high school.

The Kelleher home was not a happy one after Jon’s death. Patty’s parents couldn’t recover from their loss or help Patty cope with her grief. When she left home to attend university in another city, she was determined to make a new start. She called herself Pat and found new circle of friends. One of them was Michael Tierney—confident, laid-back, easy on the eyes. Pat and Michael married the year after Pat finished university.

But readers need to know very little of this backstory. Backstory takes a story backward. Whether it is revealed through flashbacks, a character’s memories or exposition, backstory stops the story’s forward movement. It’s important to the writer because it deepens her understanding of her protagonist, and creates a fuller, more engaging character. But it’s far less important to readers.

As New York literary agent Donald Maass notes in The Breakout Novelist, the prime reason why novel manuscripts are rejected is failure to put the main conflict in place quickly enough, “usually due to setting up the story with backstory.”

In Safe Harbor, my first Pat Tierney mystery, readers learn at the outset when a stranger visits Pat in her office that Michael has been dead for four years and that he fathered a child with another woman a few years before his death. His infidelity is a big surprise to Pat, and that’s all readers need to know about him. Pat clearly has a problem on her hands—the first of many that she will face throughout the mystery.
Backstory that isn’t essential to the story you are telling shouldn’t be in it. Jon’s death has nothing to do with Safe Harbor’s storyline so I left it out. Michael’s infidelity is what concerns Pat.

In Black Water, the second mystery in the series, Pat goes off to cottage country north of Toronto to oversee the opening of a new branch of the investment firm she works for. A man has just been murdered, and Jamie Collins, Pat’s daughter’s sweetheart, is the prime suspect. Readers met Jamie in the previous book, but I don’t go into much of that. What’s important is that Jamie is in trouble and Pat’s daughter is counting on her mother to help.

Raven Lake opens a few months after the end of Black Water. Pat is still in cottage country, planning to spend a relaxing summer at a lake. Again, I kept backstory to an absolute minimum. I put Pat to work by handing her two problems. She learns that her teenage daughter is pregnant. And if that’s not enough for the woman to deal with, later that day a friend comes to her with his problem—because Pat’s the kind of person people come to for help. Bruce Stohl tells her that his mother has disappeared. And the next day, the elderly woman is found murdered.

Very little backstory, but huge problems that keep Pat constantly on the go.

Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts reviewer, editorial writer and editor. She is now a Toronto-based fiction writer and freelance journalist. Her first Pat Tierney mystery, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010 and published by Imajin Books in 2012. It was followed by Black Water in 2013. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” a Pat Tierney mystery in the anthology Thirteen, was a finalist for a Derringer Award in 2014. Rosemary’s third Pat Tierney mystery, Raven Lake, has just been released! Jack Batten, the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.”

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Monday, 30 May 2016

Deadly Dames - An Evening With Women Who Kill

The following article has been re-blogged, with permission, from

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending “It’s a Crime”, a panel discussion hosted by my local library featuring five women who kill for a living.  Fictionally, that is ... five female authors all of whom write in the mystery/thriller/crime genre.

These “Deadly Dames” led an informative and very lively discussion about what it means to be a female author in the world of crime fiction.  Their collective works range from cozy and historical mysteries through to a more humorous take on murder and include novels, short stories and “rapid reads” (novellas).  Needless to say, an impressive body of work spanning a wide range of reader interest and preferences.

One brave gentleman joined the otherwise completely female audience, which was a little smaller than anticipated, although I found this made the setting and the discussion seem more intimate – a chat rather than a presentation.

Obviously, the first question addressed was WHY? – Why do these women choose to write about murder and mayhem?  The unanimous answer … because its fun!  A few other good points were made as well; women are predominantly caretakers and often find themselves ruled by other people’s schedules – work, children, spouses and running a home. 

Writing crime fiction is a satisfying way of taking back some control and guiding an untenable situation to a satisfying end.  Ms. Bolin, being the cozy mystery representative on the panel stated that she enjoys writing her books because the settings were “somewhere you would want to live – well – except for the murder”.  I get that!  Sadly for fans of her “cozies” the recent acquisition of her publisher by another major publishing house is going to result in slowly phasing out that sub-genre. 

That revelation led to further discussion about the publishing industry in general and for women authors in particular. These ladies, while successful, made it sound like a labor of love, especially in light of the fact that female crime authors fight an uphill battle as far as getting mainstream recognition. 

One statistic discovered by “Sisters in Crime”, a support organization for female crime authors, revealed that while publication of the genre consists of an equal ratio of male to female authors the mainstream media (newspapers, magazines) tends to review the books with an 80:20 ratio in favor of male authors.  In the 1980’s there were virtually no mainstream reviews of female crime writers and it became one of the mandates of “Sisters in Crime” to increase exposure for female writers in the genre.  Despite those statistics it is interesting to note that research also shows that mystery/crime books appeal mostly to women and those female readers tend to be in the 40+ age range. 

That makes perfect sense to me.  I fall into that demographic and think by that time in their lives most women either have a mental “hit list” where the fantasy appeals (kidding – sort of) or as Ms. Astolfo pointed out, we enjoy the challenge of “solving the puzzle”.  Trying to beat the detective to the solution always makes for a fun past time.  It was also mentioned that mysteries can be a safety zone; when there is enough uncertainty, upheaval and “scares” in real life it is nice to escape into a world where you know the “frightening things” will be resolved.

No discussion of writing and publishing would be complete without bringing e-books and Amazon into the mix.  While the ladies did admit to the fact that those two entities combined have “destroyed” book pricing and decreased their income by close to 50% they were not completely negative about either recent phenom.  Both Amazon and e-books allow them to obtain an international audience and fan base that might be unachievable with solely print books.  It sounded a bit like a love/hate relationship.  With reference to self-publishing Ms. Bruce made the best comparison … when the printing press was invented it changed publishing too.  The monks wouldn’t painstakingly write out any old book but as long as the printer was paid he would typeset anything.  While self-publishing produces a glut in the market eventually the wheat separates from the chaff.

But on to a few of the lighter moments.

Have you ever included someone you know in one of your books?

I won’t reveal details (to protect the innocent) but it was a resounding “YES” by 4 of the ladies on the panel and the lone hold out seemed very quiet on the subject.  Hmmm?

What are the favorite and least favorite aspects of being a writer?

Again, all the ladies were in total agreement that the favorite aspect of writing was the creative process; coming up with an idea, building the world for the story and that moment when something in your brain clicks and it all comes together.  Ms. Campbell referred to it as her “turret time” … like sitting in the top of a tower until the idea comes together.  The least favorite?  Unanimous also – Marketing, promotion and social media.  Ms. O’Callaghan also added “writer’s block, distractions and procrastination”.

Where do ideas come from and how do you keep track of your ideas?

Notes … notebooks … notes … notebooks everywhere … bedside notebooks!  Obviously keeping notes and jotting things down while they’re top of mind is important.  Also mentioned were laptops, voice recorders, napkins in restaurants and bars but the most original goes to Ms. Campbell who “was driving down the Gardiner Expressway during rush hour and jotted down an sudden idea using eye liner on a paper napkin”.

I had my own little notebook and was taking notes but, as happens, I would get caught up in the conversation so any paraphrasing or credit errors are my own fault.  Humblest of apologies if I messed something up.

 And the ideas?  They can come from anywhere; a newspaper or magazine article, an overheard conversation or observing something at the grocery store.  Sometimes an idea or character can be gleamed from an offhand remark made by a family member.  At some time or another we all utter those words “I could kill you” and the writer just starts to wonder how that might be accomplished.

If you have read this far in this blog post then you must realize that I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  The ladies were gracious with their time, willing to share their knowledge and experience in a relaxed and very often humorous manner.

They followed the panel discussion with a reading from one of their books/stories.  There is something wonderful about hearing an author read their own words, especially when they are also good readers (sorry Mr. King, I love you, but …)

While I have to admit that I have not read any of the books by these lady crime writers I do plan to rectify that as I left with a mini book haul and a little swag in the form of bookmarks.  The ladies very kindly signed all the books.

All those attending were given a “wanted poster” featuring a little blurb on each lady.  I don’t know who to credit with the design (Alison Bruce I think).  It was cute and I tried scanning it to include here but it didn’t scan very well on my ancient machine, so here is my pared-down version if you want to know more about each of these “Deadly Dames”.


Wanted for delving into the dark side of the human soul.  Do not be fooled by her pleasant demeanor and flowing prose.  Astolfo knows evil and writes about it.

Award-winning author of short stories, novels, novellas, and screenplays.


Specialty killer favoring weapons of mass crafting.  Bolin’s crimes involve needlework of all kinds, quirky characters and deadly puns.

Janet Bolin writes the Threadville Mystery Series – machine embroidery, murder, and mayhem in a village of sewing, quilting, yarn, and other crafty shops.  Threadville Mysteries have been nominated for Agatha and Bony Blithe Awards.


Known for consorting with law officers.  While working undercover as a crossing guard, Bruce plans murder, mayhem and the occasional horse chase.

Author of mystery, romantic suspense and historical western romance novels.  Three of Alison’s novels have been finalists for genre awards. (Deadly Season was nominated for a 2016 Arthur Ellis Award - AB)


Mistress of the comic caper and able to leap small curbs in stiletto heels, Campbell is known for stealing art, shoes and numerous awards.

The Toronto Sun called her Canada’s “Queen of Comedy”.  Melodie Campbell has won The Derringer, The Arthur Ellis, and eight other awards for crime fiction.


O’Callaghan has managed to maintain a low profile by authoring perfectly innocent nonfiction books as a cover for her nefarious crime sprees in short fiction.

Joan has had an active career in freelance writing, with over 30 educational publications to her credit.  Her short stories have been published in anthologies and online magazines.  In 2014, her flash fiction story, “Torch Song for Two Voices” won the Polar Expressions Publishing contest.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Rick Mofina - From Crime Reporter to Crime Writer

Rick Mofina is a former reporter who has interviewed murderers on death row; flown with the LAPD over L.A. and patrolled with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near the Arctic Circle. He's also reported from the Caribbean, Africa, and Kuwait's border with Iraq. He’s written 20 thrillers that have been published in 30 countries, including an illegal translation in Iran. He’s a four-time Thriller Award nominee; a two Shamus Award nominee, and the winner of Canada’s top prize for crime fiction, the Arthur Ellis Award.

Rick Mofina is well-qualified to write about crime on just about every level. As a former reporter working the so-called cop desk, he garnered a wealth of experience and background to feed and inform his fiction. From a summer student at the Toronto Star through weekends at the Ottawa Citizen, Mofina rose through the ranks gaining experience at Southam’s Ottawa bureau, and then at the Brooks Bureau in Brooks, Alberta and the Calgary Herald.

Studying both journalism and literature in university gave him the perfect combination to segue from writing about real-life events to writing fiction and perfect his craft. In addition to these subjects, Mofina credits a course called Religious Responses to Death with shaping his approach to the events he writes about. As a crime reporter, Mofina saw the worst of life. He describes the crime reporter as a filter for the community, talking both to detectives and the victims and/or their families, something he says is “tough:” dealing with facts and emotions; being aware of the competitive nature of the job; being sensitive to the victims and their families’ right to privacy, and at the same time respecting the public’s right to know. It was in many respects a balancing act. At the same time, it was essential that he network. The many contacts he made among detectives, the RCMP and first responders were helpful, and even now he continues to hear from some of them.

It was while he was working nights on the cop desk, that Mofina’s first novel, If Angels Fall (2000), gelled. His experiences as a reporter, his insights into how newsrooms do and do not work, combined with all the drama and politics found there, helped to shape Tom Reed, the hero of that series, and Kate Page, a female reporter who is the protagonist of another series. All characters, including Reed and Page, that populate Mofina’s books, are composites of real people he’s encountered.

His plots draw their inspiration from real life stories and events. He recalls that while in Calgary, on Sunday morning drives, his wife always liked to look in the window of a bridal shop on Electric Avenue. There were always four brides in the window. "What if," mused Mofina, "one morning there were five brides there?"

Another source for his writing is found in his travels, especially in Africa and the Middle East. Mofina recalls being walked through the stages of an execution of a Canadian murderer in Texas; seeing kids playing in the sand dunes in Iraq, and attracted as children will be, to brightly coloured objects buried there – objects that were brightly coloured land mines! He travelled to Africa with Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whom he describes as “the hardest working person on the plane.” Mofina had the misfortune to be bitten by a dog while there and having to undergo treatment for rabies, an incident he was able to work into his writing.

His writing style has evolved from his work as a journalist – a combination of CP (Canadian Press) and AP (Associated Press) style. He also feels he has been influenced by the work of authors such as Thomas Harris and Elmore Leonard. He admires Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson for the hooks they create at the end of each chapter. A true student of literature, Mofina readily admits to loving the work of Dickens and Dostoevsky.

Asked about the most memorable case he reported on, Mofina recalls a heart-wrenching story of a little girl whose mother allowed her to walk to school by herself for the first time. The little girl was killed that day and was found lying at the foot of her driveway.

Although transitioning into a full-time writer of fiction was not difficult – Mofina had been writing all his life – he comments on some of the differences, especially the freedom to make stuff up and honing a style other than journalistic. All in all, Mofina has found it to be more of an evolution than a transition.

When writing his current Kate Page series, I asked if he found it difficult to write from the point of view of a woman? He admits that he is still unsure of himself, but gets helpful feedback from his wife, his agent, and the women in his writing critique group.

Does Mofina see his books as entertainment or social commentary? Both he says. The common denominator is story-telling. It wraps itself around both aspects of his writing.

Watch for Mofina’s twentieth novel and fourth in the Kate Page series, Freefall, which will be out this summer! Me – I can hardly wait!

Reporter Kate Page believes something beyond mechanical—or human—error is behind the incidents that have air investigators baffled. But the mystery deepens as teams scramble to pinpoint a link between the tragedies, and Kate receives an untraceable message from someone boasting responsibility and threatening another event.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

A Brave New World - Preserving the Printed Word

I am pleased to welcome Donna and Alex Carrick of Carrick Publishing, as I continue to explore the changes in the publishing industry and impact of those changes on the various stakeholders.

I’d like to thank Joan for featuring Carrick Publishing today at her blog site.

Much has been said during recent years about the changing industry landscape. Alex and I made the decision that, rather than witness these changes as bystanders, we would become involved on a pioneering level.

We’ve been able, in some small way, to help shape the changes in our publishing industry. We offer options to talented authors who might otherwise not be able to reach readers.

In your dual role as an author and publisher, what changes have you seen in recent years?

The changes our industry has faced so far in the 21st century have been much discussed by authors and industry leaders. My comments stem from the grass-roots level, my gut reaction to what we’ve witnessed in the past 10 years.

Most notably, there have been the closures. Closures of large publishing houses. Closures of brick and mortar bookstores.

Talented authors have been advised their publishing contracts will not be renewed.

The rise of e-books, which should have offered salvation to the struggling author, has yet to realize its potential.

In a free-market society, one expects the best and brightest to rise to success. This has not, for the most part, been the case. We still see only a marked few authors gaining reader recognition. And this success, while in part driven by talent, has not been a true gauge of the “best of the best”. Too many skilled, worthy authors still sit on the sidelines, unheralded and unrecognized.

Alex is an Economist by profession. Naturally, with that background, we do believe that eventually the reading public will seek out new talent. Meanwhile, though, the extremely alluring distractions of video and internet media are giving authors a run for their efforts.

Books, whether print or e-book format, may never regain their former glory, floating as they do upon a public that is pulled in other directions. But we must believe that reading will, with the continued effort of publishers and authors, find its place within the recreational options open to young people.

I target young people in this comment because I believe the “over 50” crowd already understands the importance of reading, both as it relates to intellectual and emotional development, as well as for the pleasure it can bring the reader.

Young people, though, are a tougher market nut to crack.

Reader by reader, it is our job, those of us who love this industry, to bring them into the fold, kicking and screaming if necessary. If we fail in this mission, we will have failed our industry. We’ll have let our fellow authors down, our publishers, both traditional and Indie…in short we will have failed our art.

How have your roles been affected by the changes?

My initial role in this industry was as an author of literary thrillers.

Writing is my first love. I can recall as a very young child being deeply moved by the great books of the time. My mother saw that love in me. She made sure, even though she was of middle education herself, that our house was filled with children’s classics. She took pains to encourage that love, even though she did not share it. I credit her with this passion.

Having said that, timing is everything.

I always knew I would write novels. I even always had an idea of the themes I would try to address in my work. What I didn’t necessarily anticipate was the quicksand-like force of these industry changes. Suddenly, agents and publishers were no longer enjoying wide profit margins. Without profit margins, they had little, if any, incentive to champion new talent.

The upheaval caused by this economic sinkhole meant that a new author, such as myself, would not be judged on merit, on talent, or even on effort. The stories and themes that I hoped to bring to readers would, in short, never reach the public, even on a modest level.

As an artist, this was unacceptable to me.

If I could not find a publisher, it seemed the alternative was to become a publisher. Hence, the birth of Carrick Publishing. Alex and I perceived a need in our industry, and we set about trying to fill it.

What is the impact of these changes on authors? on readers? on the book industry overall?

Authors: I believe many authors have been, quite simply, devastated by the changes in the publishing industry. Authors who used to be able to focus of the art of story-telling must now become self-marketers, editors, in many cases cover artists. Authors are being stretched beyond their capacity, and still they feel no assurance of support within the industry. They face dwindling (often disappearing) royalties; they are being systematically dropped by their agents and publishers, and only the very select few are still enjoying the publicity that is the banner-benefit of signing with a large publishing house.

Readers are, in my humble opinion, being led by the nose. They are being offered a grossly narrowing array of works/authors/talents/themes to choose from. In a time when we, as an industry, should be pulling out all stops to court new readers, instead we are offering them a mere Pablum assortment of genres/authors/works.

New readers, with their legendary short attention spans, are quickly becoming disgusted with this shortage of variety.

Some may set out to discover new Indie works, but even there they are not satisfied. With the groundswell of unsupported authors, there is an unmatched tsunami of low-quality work.

I am not an advocate of the traditional “gatekeeper”. Alex and I believe firmly in allowing readers to award success to authors where it is merited. Having said that, at least the gatekeepers offered some small assurance of quality.

The flux of unsupported writers unfortunately brings with it a flood of lesser work. Work that is not properly edited, with themes and characters that are less than original, less than compelling.

Book Industry: In a few words, I do believe our industry has been injured by these changes. It will take time and a great deal of effort to regain the trust of readers. We can do this only by offering them greater variety, greater enthusiasm for our art, and a deepening of the quality of our work.
What challenges and opportunities do these changes present to the various stakeholders?

We live and work in a climate of tremendous opportunity. However, it does not present itself without equally tremendous effort. Alex and I saw, early on, that this is a time for pioneers, if you’ll allow the word.

More than at any time since the invention of the typewriter, this is a time of innovation, of new approaches, of new attitudes and ideas within our industry.

The traditional guard is slowly beginning to see this, and to govern itself accordingly.

At Carrick Publishing, we’ve known this for more than a decade. It’s the basis of our business.

How are you positioning yourself to meet the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities?

Our position is simple:  If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. Instead, be open to new ideas. Find out what does work.

With this in mind, we offer independent authors a means to reach readers. We offer them an Indie publishing platform, with services that include copy-editing, formatting and verification of the publication files. We also offer follow-up, working closely with our authors in the post-publication stages.

While we cannot act as publicists, we do fully support our authors through social media, and we encourage our authors to grow their personal platforms. We’re happy to guide where we can in this seemingly daunting process.

Royalties, slender as they are these days, are vitally important to our authors. We recognize this. Therefore, our fees are related strictly to the labour we provide. We make no claim on the future copyright or royalties of our authors. We act as publisher of record, copy-editor if needed, guide for new authors, formatter and setup. 

Finally, we are fully dedicated to restoring literary quality to our industry. If a work comes to us that is poorly edited, we will let the author know his/her next steps required.

We will not accept or work with manuscripts that are poor quality, nor will we work with anything we deem to be in poor taste. This, of course, is subject to our opinions, but would certainly include anything we see as hate-literature.

Beyond those qualifiers, we are open to most genres, from memoirs to literary to mystery to fantasy, or any mix of genres.

Do you have any additional thoughts you'd like to share?

Donna: If you have the ear of a young person who does not read, please encourage them to do so. Please, do not attempt to restrict (beyond the necessities of good taste) what your children choose to read. Allow them, and encourage them, to read for pleasure, more than for education.

Only through the deep, undeniable pleasure of being completely lost in a good story can we hope to bring a new generation of readers back to our industry.

And back to our art.

Alex: Another art form is currently ascending, and has already replaced books as the dominant cultural touchstone. This art form is video, in all its current and future platforms. We recognize this reality, but there remains a true value in preserving the printed word, out of which so much of video is derived.

We feel a responsibility to continue to fight for the recognition of the written word.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

A Brave New World - Author Revolution

I continue to explore the changes in the publishing industry on various stakeholders.  My guest today is Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author and publisher of Imajin Books.

In your role as a publisher, what changes have you seen in recent years?

What we've seen over the past ten years is an author revolution, with a dramatic increase in self-published or indie authors taking the lead. Educated writers who take on publishing as a "business," are discovering that most book retailers like Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, GooglePlay etc., have their own publishing platforms available to writers from many countries. Some authors published by the Big 5 have taken back their rights and self-published their titles. We've also seen many start-up hybrid or indie publishing companies open and close their virtual doors. Ebook sales have risen worldwide. Amazon still remains the leader in book sales, especially for ebooks, and more authors (indie and published by small publishers) are making it onto the overall Top 100 Best Sellers list on We're also seeing a huge demand for translated works, and indie authors or authors published by hybrid publishers like Imajin Books now have more opportunities to see their works translated and sold in various territories. We've also seen an increase in freelance editors, proofreaders, formatters and cover designers, though writers should do their homework as not all offer quality.

How has your role been affected by the changes?

My role as publisher hasn't changed much. I'm still looking for exciting, well-written stories with memorable characters and plots, whether novels or novellas. More importantly, I'm looking for writers who know how to promote themselves online and in public. We are always on the lookout for authors who don't want to self-publish. We'll even consider authors who've left the bigger houses and retained their book rights. We've branched out into foreign translations, whether we publish them or negotiate deals for our authors with foreign publishers.

What is the impact of these changes on authors? On readers? On the book industry overall?

For authors, these changes mean no more paying tens of thousands of dollars for old-fashioned "vanity" printing, or no more paying thousands for a print-on-demand publishing package. Publishing a quality book takes an investment of $1500-4000, depending on who you know. Not only are writers publishing their own works, they're taking charge of their marketing and promotions. They realize, now more than ever, that this is a business, and like all businesses you need to invest time and money every month. Authors who want their books to sell must regularly invest, and that means buying ads from book promo sites, Facebook, Twitter etc.

For readers, there is now a large quantity of $0-$4.99 ebooks available daily. The Big 5 and mid-sized publishers are still jacking up ebook prices, but we're seeing lower-priced ebooks by some.   eBooks published by Imajin Books have always been more affordable than those of bigger publishers, and we hold quite a few sales and freebie events each year.

What challenges and opportunities do these changes present to the various stakeholders?

The biggest challenge for authors is 1.) learning that they can't do it all. If they want to be taken seriously as a career author, they must hire professionals (editors, proofreaders, formatters, cover designers etc.), and 2.) making sure they have available financial support to properly promote their works.
The biggest challenge for publishers is trying to weed out all the hobby writers (those who will most likely only write one book, and usually not that well) from those who have true talent. This has always been an issue for publishers, but with the influx of new authors comes more manuscript submissions.

As for opportunities, there has never been a better time for writers to either publish their own works or find a smaller hybrid company to publish their books.

How are you positioning yourself to meet the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities?

At Imajin Books, we take advantage of all the tools that self-published authors have access to. We pay small advances but higher than average royalties. We have access to far more sales data than ever before, so we can take advantage of other people's experiences. Plus I am both indie published and traditionally published, meaning I've self-published some works and other publishers have published me too. This gives me the benefits of experiencing and learning from both sides. I believe this makes me a better publisher. I'm always on the lookout for new technology.

Do you have any additional thoughts you'd like to share?

I encourage writers to consider what they want out of writing. Do they just want to write for pleasure? If so, there's nothing wrong with being a hobby writer. Do you want to write books full-time as a career author? If so, make sure you're prepared to spend the money AND the time. You can't just throw a terribly edited work up on Amazon then ignore it and expect it to sell. There's much more to being a career author than writing a couple of books. Treat this as a business, and you'll see your business grow. And know that ANYTHING is possible. Even hitting the New York Times bestseller list!

Write for yourself first. Write because you feel passionate about it. Then decide what you want to be. :-)

Cheryl Tardif is the publisher at Imajin Books®, a hybrid publishing company in West Kelowna, BC, Canada. Utilizing today’s technology, Imajin Books publishes ebooks and trade paperbacks by international authors. Imajin Qwickies® is a novella imprint that launched in 2015, along with children’s imprint, Ogopogo Books™.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif is an award-winning, international bestselling author represented by Trident Media Group in New York. Booklist raves, "Tardif, already a big hit in Canada…a name to reckon with south of the border."

Check out Cheryl’s website and Imajin Books website, and connect with her on Twitter (Cheryl and Imajin Books) and Facebook (Cheryl and Imajin Books).

Photo credit: Jessy Marie, Ai Love Photography

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Brave New World - A Matter of Numbers

I’m continuing to explore the impact that changes in the publishing world are having on the various stakeholders – authors, readers and marketers. My guest this week is Vicki Delany.

A prolific and varied author of crime fiction and sitting president of Crime Writers of Canada, Vicki is well-positioned to offer an insightful perspective. She writes the Year Round Christmas mysteries and, under the pen name of Eva Gates, the Lighthouse Library series, both from Penguin Random House. She is also the author of the Constable Molly Smith series, the Klondike Gold Rush mysteries, and standalone novels of suspense. Her Rapid Reads novella, Juba Good, is currently shortlisted for a Golden Oak award from the Ontario Library association. Vicki’s most recent book is Unreasonable Doubt, the 8th in the Constable Molly Smith series.

A former computer programmer and systems analyst, Vicki lives and writes in bucolic Prince Edward County, Ontario.

In your dual role as an author and president of CWC, what changes have you seen in recent years?

I’ve seen a lot of unhappy authors! This has always been a very difficult business and I doubt there ever was much of a golden period for writers. But as difficult as it was, at least it used to pay better. All reports out of the UK, US and Canada, say that writer’s incomes are down by 50% over the last twenty years, and that’s tough.

I believe the biggest impact on writers’ incomes is the plethora of free books out there. I’d like to ask readers to think before they load up on free books. What’s the value of that book to them? If it’s nothing, okay go ahead. But if you want good writers to continue to write good books then you have to realize that they have to be paid. And that’s what worries me most about the new world of publishing. That we’ve forgotten the value of a book. Will we get to the day when there are a handful of bestsellers making money and everything else is free? And worth exactly what you pay for it: $0.00. 

I won’t be writing, if that’s the case. And neither will a lot of reader favourites.

How have your roles been affected by the changes?

As a writer, I’ve been very lucky. I’m still with the publisher I joined ten years ago, and I have moved between others for other books. I am published now by Penguin Random House, and although they have recently consolidated I’m still hanging in there with my Year Round Christmas Mystery series.
As the president of the CWC, we continue to represent and promote our authors and crime writing in Canada, and our membership is strong and growing. The state of getting Canadian crime writing published is a story for another day.

What is the impact of these changes on authors? On readers? On the book industry overall?

I’m just glad I am not starting out today. In fact, if I was, I’d probably give up. It’s much more difficult to get a first novel published by a major press than it used to be. No one wants to take a chance on an unknown, and a lot of publishers are cutting back the number of books they’re releasing. Plus, there seem to be a lot more people wanting to write a book, so competition for those few first novel slots is intense. On the other hand, I get the feeling there are a lot of new small publishers and mid-sized publishers, and that might be a good thing. As long as their eye is on quality and they know about production and distribution and promoting and are not just in it to make a quick buck off a desperate author. 

What about self-publishing some will say? I’ll mention up front that I would never advise anyone to self-publish their first book. Yes, I just said above that it’s more difficult to get a traditional publisher, but it’s worth the effort. You need that ‘gate keeper’, you need people, professional people, not your mom or best friend, to tell you what’s wrong with your book and how to make it better. Maybe you need someone to tell you it’s not worth publishing, try again. 

I think it’s too early to tell the impact on readers. There seem to be lots of new voices, self-published or published by one of the new small presses, but is that a business model that can sustain good, serious writers over the long term? When larger houses cut back or “consolidate” their output, the readers’ favourites are let go. Writers probably need the support of their readers now more than ever before. If you love a book or an author, let the world know.

What challenges and opportunities do these changes present to the various stakeholders?

It’s harder to get a book published by a traditional publishing house, if that’s what you want. If what you want is to write something and have it “out there” and maybe have a couple of people read it, then self-publishing can be the way to go. But don’t fool yourself that it’s going to lead to a big publishing contract. 

Selling books is a numbers game. If you want a publisher to take you on with anything other than a first, unpublished manuscript, the very first thing they do is look at your numbers. They don’t care if you were with a small, but excellent literary press, or self-published. If you didn’t sell a certain number of copies, they have no interest. Sometimes, the quality of the book doesn’t even matter.

Some established authors are doing well self-publishing their new books or out-of-print ones; they’re what are being called hybrids. These people have a following of loyal readers, they have a network of fellow-authors, they have a track record with respected reviewers, and they know how to play the game. And in many cases, they also still have traditional publishers for other books so they cross-promote. Many hybrids are doing very well in this new world. 

One other group is getting rich off this. And that’s the people out to scam desperate writers. Fake contests, phony agents, “vanity presses” that promise the world and charge thousands of dollars. I got an email just the other day, saying that for a special rate of $99 they’d promote my free book on Amazon. Hum, so I can pay to get nothing in return.

How are you positioning yourself to meet the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities?

I’m doing nothing at all different. Then again, I’ve said that I’ve been lucky and I have. I still publish three or four books a year, all from traditional publishers ranging from mid-sized to one of the big five.

Do you have any additional thoughts you'd like to share?

I’d advise everyone out there who is thinking of writing a book or who has written a book and wants to have it published to learn all they can about the business and the options out there. Networking is key. Networking is how I got my contact with Penguin Random House. I knew someone whose agent was looking for someone…. Be very aware of the scammers I mentioned above.