The Difference Between Published Author and Not

I’m an occasional reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds. Although I’ve had him in my blog reader for probably around a year, he really caught my attention last week with an interview with Margaret Atwood. Yes, the Margaret Atwood. I mean, wow.

Today he put out a request for interviewee ideas. However, he stressed that he was looking for ideas about other writers, big writers, that he could at least ask — not the average Joe Blow who put out his or her own book. In his own words:

I am quite unlikely to publish interviews with self-published authors unless you have other published credentials or some manner of kick-ass sales numbers or some other success story worth talking about. I apologize for this but the majority of those emails I had to (unsuccessfully) wade through were from self-published authors. It was… not pleasant.

That’s the difference between published and not published, plain and simple. Not that Chuck Wendig is the arbitrator of what’s good and what’s not. But you can imagine that of all those requests coming in, at least some of them had to be total crap. (I’m probably being generous here…)

My point is, the downside of self-publishing is that you automatically put yourself in a league with all those other people who wrote a book on a Sunday afternoon and uploaded it to Amazon on a Sunday night. There is nothing to differentiate you from the next. Even Margaret Atwood, if she had decided to self-publish before she became the Margaret Atwood, would have to slog her way up from the swamp.

Some people get lucky, like Amanda Hocking. Other writers — and there are bound to be other writers as good as Hocking who didn’t make it — will forever be slogging it out.

There is still a stigma to self-publishing and no matter how much that stigma may lessen over the years, I can’t foresee a time when that will become more prestigious than finding a publisher. Any (legitimate) publisher.

Prestige might not be your thing, of course. Sometimes you have to trade that for better sales or more control or whatever. But it is worth noting for those who do decide to self-publish, the onus of separating your cream from the watery milk below is solely on you. Nobody owes you anything. You in all likelihood will be cast in the same light as every amateur self-publisher, no matter how professional and published your book — until you prove yourself otherwise.

Here’s Wendig’s whole post (in case you’re looking for a place to get yourself profiled…)


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Publish or Self-Publish? In Canada, the Question May Soon Be Moot…

Found out just today (where was I this week?) that Douglas & McIntyre are “restructuring”. Although they are still operating normally, filing for bankruptcy protection is never a good thing.

The question for Canadian writers is becoming more and more, where can I get my stuff published? And for Canadian readers, are foreign books our only future?

Personally, I tend to think not — Canadian readers will always seek out Canadian writers. It will be harder, and I think they’ll be less read than even today, sadly. I do see it as another gap in the levee of Canadian culture — one that I hope will get shored up soon enough.

Because not only does the world need more Canada, Canadians need more Canada.

Here’s the Globe report:


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Presumed First Edition…

Found this over my morning coffee this morning. A 1973 copy of The Great Gatsby — printed in Kiev, according to the bookstore listing it (they all look a little Russian on the cover, don’t they?) — and a “presumed first edition”.

Sold for $75.00. Not bad for a first edition Gatsby


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Moby Dick…

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

According to Google, it’s the 161st anniversary of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I’ve read Typee, Omoo, Bartleby the Scrivener… yet I’ve never been able to finish Moby Dick. People elbow me in the ribs and say, “It must be your white whale.”

I don’t know what they mean.


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Wordless Wednesdays – Oppan Gingham Style

Oppan-Gingham-StyleI love Photoshop.


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Up in Maine

The Great GatsbyI re-read The Great Gatsby for like the 17th time recently. Completely by accident, as it usually happens. I’ll pick it up to read a passage or two, thumb my way to the front, and BOOM! I’m taken in again. I know it’s cliché, but really every time I read it I see something new. One of the new things I found this time was a mistake.

Yes, a mistake. In The Great Gatsby. But before you stone me for blasphemy, let me plead my case.

Part way into the book, Nick Carraway, the narrator, lists a bunch of people who came to Gatsby’s parties as a way to give the reader a sense of the kind of parties these were — and it’s a whole new level of name-dropping. The first sentence of the fourth paragraph of the fourth chapter goes like this:

From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man named Bunsen, whom I knew at Yale, and Doctor Webster Civet, who was drowned last summer up in Maine. (Emphasis mine, surprise surprise.)

Why is this a mistake? Well, you Gatsby scholars will remember that Nick wrote his story after he moved back to St. Paul, Minnesota. Which, as you geography majors/enthusiasts will realize, is not “down” from Maine so much as it is “across” or “over”.

However, Maine is up from New York, where the story takes place, and where Fitzgerald started writing the book. So either he forgot the premise of Nick being in St. Paul, not New York, when he was writing this, or he forgot himself and referred to Maine in relation to his own desk at the moment he put those words to paper.

Now before you jump all over me for nitpicking (you’d be right most of the time, btw), I’m not pointing this out to say, “Ha! I have proof that there is no such thing as the perfect novel after all!” I point it out because it reveals the Man Behind the Curtain, and that excites me. You can learn so much more about the writer in his or her mistakes than through their perfect prose — you feel so much closer to the writer and the process. At least I do.

There is actually an extra little twist to this. I mentioned above that Fitzgerald starting writing Gatsby in New York — but it wasn’t finished there. Fitzgerald and his family moved to the French Riviera in 1924 so he could finalize it, and according to a letter to his editor, he scrapped most of the book and started fresh. Which implies of course that he didn’t scrap all of it — and this little descriptive tidbit that has little to do with the characters is exactly the type of passage that could survive to later drafts.

So, what this little slip, “up in Maine”, tells me is that (a) Fitzgerald absent-mindedly forgot where the narrator, Nick Carraway, was at the time he “wrote” his account, proving that (b) this passage was written in New York, and (c) this was part of the original manuscript that survived the trip to France.

I know. I could be wrong. Maybe in the US in the 1920s everyone thought of Maine as “up there” — it is the northern-most state in the continental US (weird that phrase, since Alaska is still part of the continent… but I digress). Maybe Nick, in his “writing” of his account, forgot himself and wrote it from the perspective of remembering back to his New York days (can you say Inception, anyone?)

There are countless explanations, and this is all conjecture on my part. I even Googled it to see if anyone else has talked about this “mistake” before, and after 15-0dd pages of search results, I couldn’t find the faintest reference to it (if you know of one, please let me know).

So yes, I could be completely off my rocker, another year older and all that. But I don’t think so. Besides, I like looking at the Man Behind the Curtain. So this is my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What do you think? Feel free to let me know below…


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Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated CultureIt’s been 21 years, six months, and about 18 days since Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was first published. And I have yet to publish — yet to complete — my first novel. How sad is that?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I was six years old when I started writing songs and “selling” them. Made national radio even — my Dad pitched me to As It Happens on CBC and they interviewed me about my song writing and I even sang one (despite not being a singer) about a tornado, as I recall. Free songs I was writing, to anyone who asked.

(Nobody did, by the way, though Barbara Frum thought I was “cute”…)

In any case, flash forward to 1991. Still wanting to be a writer. A novelist, if given my preference. But it was Generation X that made me realize I could be a writer, and informed a large part of what I believe a writer — at least a novelist — could be. Loose. No real regard to “conventional” style in approach or storytelling. Modern, not lonely stories on a lonely prairie from a lonely decade. My god, the Gen X cover has upside-down clouds — how wonderfully dystopian and yet strangely hopeful is that?

Not quite sure why I’m thinking about this now. I have been pondering lately the fact that culture is continuing to accelerate — Gen X and the early 90s looks positively idyllic, all resort-ish and full of people lounging on deck chairs by comparison. Can anything I write today survive the test of time? And does that even matter?

Yes, of course it matters. And yes, of course it shouldn’t. One of the many paradoxes of being a writer — learning how to care so, so deeply, and learning how not to feel a thing.

I’m marking a new chapter (pun noted) in my novel-writing journey. Not quite sure of what it is, but I’m definitely turning a page (pun noted again; getting slightly annoyed with myself now). Whatever is coming next, I do know that it’s a good thing.

Bring on the tornadoes.


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eBooks Were Made for Canada

My Life Among the Apes by Cary Fagan - SOLD OUT

Here’s a truly Canadian tale.

First, let me preface this piece by saying I’ve been on the fence about ebooks, hung up mostly on the fact that they’re not books in the physical sense. I’m not morally opposed to ebooks, but after playing with Kindle, Nook, and Kobo in-store as well as Kindle for PC and Kobo for iPad, etc., I’m just not convinced that — for me — they could ever replace the reading experience a real book gives.

However a recent chain of events made me realize how utterly perfect ebooks are for a country like Canada.

Canada is an interesting place, literaturely speaking. I suspect that we have more novelists per capita than any other country in the world. Much of that might be thanks to the great support of things like the Canada Council for the Arts grants and the Ontario Arts Council.

We’re likely near the top for readers per capita too. It’s just that our capita cap is less than 35 million. Even lower when you factor in kids and non-English readers. It’s simply not enough to support our writers fully. The result is that except for the Atwoods and the Couplands, publishers usually do small print runs.

Another important aspect of the literary scene is that Canada has a very award-centric readership. The difference between winning the Giller Prize, in one case at least, was the difference between the 800-copy initial run, and at least 30,000 after it won*. It’s like the Canadian version of the Oprah Book Club. I guess it’s not surprising – in a country with so many writers and so (relatively) few readers, any direction as to what is the crème de la crème would be pounced upon faster than Margaret Atwood at a book fair.

But when the Giller Prize long list came out a couple of weeks ago, I found the problem is much more profound than I even realized. One book in particular jumped out at me: “My Life Among the Apes” by Cary Fagan. So, I went down to my local Chapters on Thursday night – the day it was announced – but no go. I searched the racks, then searched the computer. Out of stock. The same was true in every Toronto location, not to mention Chapters Online. ( had it listed, but I wasn’t entirely convinced…) Now, it is possible that there was a big rush on them in the hours after the announcement. But not bloody likely on a work day. Besides, it’s just the long list…

Now here’s the thing that makes me nervous as a writer: this isn’t Cary Fagan’s first rodeo. Here’s his bio from Cormorant Books, his publisher:

Cary Fagan began his career writing short stories before moving on to novels as well as numerous books for children. Yet he has never given up his love for the story form. Here are ten new stories whose characters are funny, serious, peculiar, and absorbing — as only Cary Fagan can write them.

Covering a wide range of human experience with humour and grace, My Life among the Apes is a testament to Cary Fagan’s mastery of his craft.

If this accomplished writer can’t get his latest book noticed – even stocked – without being nominated for an award, what chance does the average writer have?

Answer: about the same chance – maybe less – as becoming a writer on a hit TV show. (Which, I’m thinking, might actually be the way to go…)


Just out of curiosity, I took a look to see what other hard-to-get books were on this year’s Giller long list. As it turns out, a lot. Of the 13 titles, six were not immediately available for purchase. Almost half. The longest wait was “3-5 weeks” to order.

That’s why ebooks are perfect for a country like Canada. All the challenges with printing, distribution, and other barriers are not a concern. It is there, immediately. In your ereader. The publisher gets instant cash, the writer gets another sale to his or her name, and the reader gets immediate access.

Not only that, these same benefits open up new international markets – it is much easier to sell an ebook to someone in South Africa, for example, than to send physical books there.

Except here too there is a hiccup. Publishers, especially in Canada, seem to be a little slow on the ball when it comes to ebooks. Initially, I couldn’t get “My Life Among the Apes” in ebook form (not sure if it was available and I missed it, but I couldn’t find it), though it did pop up as an option that weekend. I downloaded it, and was reading it Monday evening.

That’s what I think the greatest glory of the ebook will be, in Canada anyway: instant availability, instant scalability, instant portability – especially when it comes to distribution. Now, for the first time, there will be a seamless wait time between demand and fulfillment, between wanting a book and getting it. From the publisher’s point of view, between successfully marketing a book and actually selling it.

But will Canadian publisher embrace the ebook? Publishers around the world have shown themselves to be somewhat cautious at the very least to enter the realms of new technology. However, I think it’s inevitable that they’ll have to start doing a better job of making ebooks available and even promoting them as ereader popularity grows.

There will be a lot of people – me included – who will still prefer the solid heft of a real cover-and-pages book. But given the choice between an ebook and not reading a book at all, the ebook will always be the clear winner.


*I talked about The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud here previously, and the difficulties of getting that book into the hands of readers after it won the Giller Prize in 2010.

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Wordless Wednesdays: 50 Shades of Graham

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Yesterday, I believed…

This morning over my morning coffee I stumbled upon a trailer for a new movie, Cloud Atlas. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and a bunch of other high-profile bankables, and directed by the two Matrix directors (plus one other…), it is one of those films that will either be a vastly successful epic that will capture the hearts of many like The English Patient, or fall flat and maybe become the butt of jokes on sit-coms — like The English Patient.

I watched the ultra-long trailer here — it seems they learned their lesson from John Carter and decided not to cut the trailer too short and therefore lose all meaning (you can see a directors’ interview here that all but confirms that, or at least seems influenced by the marketing failures of John Carter, if you know that history…)

Tom Hanks seems like his usual excellent self, though at least once he does his patented bobble-head shiver, that look of incredulity in which his head shakes around somewhere between undulating and shuddering. What interested me in particular is that the movie is based on a book of the same name, which a little bit of research reveals is this (Spoiler Alert — talks about the plot):

Might have to pick that up before the movie comes out.

Anyway, there is a line in the trailer about 60% in that intrigued me. Tom Hanks says:

Yesterday, I believed I never would have done what I did today.

Isn’t that, like, the essence of every story ever told? Every good story anyway. Where a character is pushed to the limits — and beyond — of his or her physical capabilities, mental capacity, beliefs, etc. The things we do today that perhaps we never could have even imagined that sets us off on an adventure, welcomed or otherwise, and by its very nature changes our lives and perhaps even who we are.

I’m also drawn to the cadence of that sentence. I would have written it as, “I never would have believed yesterday that I would do what I did today.” But I like the not-me version so, so much better. I like that it starts with “Yesterday” and ends with “today”. I like that it states “I believed” rather than the rather more clichéd and negative “I never would have believed”. Now that I look at it too, the clichéd version has a rather weird grammatical structure. I’m sure there’s a name for it, but don’t know what it is — the “past-future tense” where you go back in time and say this is what I would have thought about the future. Except that since the future is already here, the point is rather moot, or at least grammatically awkward. But remembering back to yesterday, what I believed yesterday, has so much more impact — it’s a more forceful statement, because it is saying he did have a belief in this direction and now that’s changed — and is so much cleaner grammatically.

I don’t know. Read it over a few times and tell me if I’m still shaking out the weekend dust bunnies from my brain…

[/End boring grammatical analysis.]

In any case, I wanted to (a) bring your attention to that line and (b) bring your attention to the movie and book. I’m rather excited about it, which doesn’t happen anymore very often. Actually, I think the last great movie for me really was The English Patient (or Shakespeare in Love — whichever one came last), so if it does live up to its expectations, I’ll be well pleased.


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