A Settler Reads the Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG (2)

Note to Readers: I am a fifth-generation white European settler. My predecessors included many clergy and others who certainly must have contributed extensively to the colonization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The least I can do is to read this report with an utterly open mind and to learn from it, and to share what I am learning with my children and my grandchildren and you. This series of posts will highlight some passages that stood out as I was reading each chapter, as well as noting things I have learned and what I have thought about while I was reading. I am in no rush and it will probably take me months to complete this challenge. Your comments are welcome, although they will be filtered to ensure there is no racist or inflammatory language, but only thoughtful discussion. If you don’t like my publication standards re: your comments, please complain to someone besides me.

Introduction to the Final Report: Understanding Violence against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA1 People (Part 1)

While the “Introduction to the Final Report” is included in the Preface, it is a very important (and lengthy) section on its own – which is why I am devoting two full posts to it, separately from the one I have written about the Preface.

The Introduction opens by explaining that 2,380 people participated in the National Inquiry, in many different ways: some in public hearings, some privately, some with spoken or written statements, some by creating works of art, and in many other ways.

Then it says,”The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story – or more accurately thousands of stories – of acts of genocide against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The violence the National Inquiry heard amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading to the current increased rates of violence, death and suicide in Indigenous populations” (p. 50).

The Introduction then goes on to define the word “genocide,” which it explains has been in use since 1933 and originally dealt with the actions of the Germans “within the context of the buildup to the the Second World War. [….] ‘Genocide,’ in its original construction, is defined as coordinated actions aimed at the destruction of a group, committed against individual members belonging to that group” (p. 50).

There follows an exploration of the two phases of ‘genocide’ as defined by Raphael Lemkin (“destruction of the national pattern of the group” and “imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”) and the eight fields across which Lemkin wrote that genocide could occur (political, cultural, economic, etc), and what he stated as its objectives (p. 50).

The Introduction recounts the subsequent history of the use of the word genocide – when and why it was incorporated into international law and how, with Lemkin’s approval, the definition was modified by lawmakers before it was written into statute. It sets out the relevant articles of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a document which Canada signed in 1948 and ratified in 1952.

The Introduction to the Final Report explores ongoing international debates over the question of “intent” as it relates to genocide, the nature of groups that can be said to be the targets of genocide, and what qualifies as actual evidence of acts of genocide having been committed. Part of this ongoing discussion is occurring because the original definitions were set out more than half a century ago, the Report says, adding that “Today fields other than the law also examine genocide in different terms.” (p. 51)

The Introduction quotes informed writers in the field – including Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre of Genocide Studies at the National University of Tres de Febrero in Argentina, Canadian writer and filmmaker Larry Krotz, and genocide scholar Andrew Woolford – on the historic application of the word “genocide” and the difficulties involved in applying the term, given the extremity of the circumstances to which it has been previously applied. It also sets out in general the reasons why the Report has invoked this word to describe the acts that have historically been – and continue to be – visited upon Canada’s Indigenous people.

In addition to the background information included in the Introduction — and the evidence contained in the report itself – the National Inquiry is preparing “a supplementary report on the Canadian genocide of Indigenous Peoples according to the legal definition of ‘genocide’,” which will be available on the Inquiry’s website (p. 54).

No Time to Start Arguing

Despite two words that might have been taken as instructive – “Listening Deeply” – that are included in a subhead near the beginning of the Introduction, many readers, including a few writers of editorials and opinion pieces who happen to be white settlers (yet again giving us a bad name), seem to have stopped “listening” (reading) at this point in order to argue about the document’s use of the word “genocide.”

As an editor, I cannot count the number of times I have told authors of books and articles that the only way to write an effective introduction is to write it after they have written the rest of their books or articles. I am fairly certain that this must have been the approach that was taken by the authors of the Final Report. Since these individuals have lived experience as members of Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, and have “listened deeply” at the hearings and done a monumental amount of related research before writing this report and its Introduction, I will give them credit for having far more knowledge on the subject than I have at this point in my reading – or will likely ever have. I will therefore hold off on delivering my opinion on their use of the word “genocide” at least until I have read the whole Report. In the meantime, however, the definitions of “genocide” that they provide certainly seem appropriate to the treatment these people have received.

I encourage you to read at least this section of the Report.

The Statistics Are Stunning

I also encourage you to read the statistics contained on pages 54 to 57 of the Introduction to the Final Report. They are beyond comprehension, and they underscore the importance of the work done by this Inquiry and of the Report itself. Here are just a few:

  • An RCMP report confirmed 1,181 cases of police-recorded incidents of Aboriginal female homicides and unresolved missing Aboriginal females between 1980 and 2012 (p. 54).
  • The same RCMP report found that “Indigenous women made up roughly 16% of all female homicides between 1980 and 2012, despite making up only 4% of the female population.” Today, estimates place the percentage of female homicides who are Indigenous at 25% (p. 55)
  • Indigenous women are 16 times more likely to be murdered or missing than Caucasian women (p. 55)
  • Indigenous women are sexually assaulted three times more often than non-Indigenous women (p. 55)
  • One Ontario study of gender-diverse and Two Spirit Indigenous people found that 73% had experienced some form of violence due to transphobia (p. 56)

Framework for the Inquiry

One section of the Introduction to the Final Report addresses framework areas that the National Inquiry considered before undertaking its work.

Its mandate was very broad: “(1) to report on all forms of violence against (2) Indigenous women and girls” (p. 58), and it is clear that a great deal of effort went in to the important work of interpreting that mandate. The words “all forms of violence,” for example, gave the Inquiry an almost overwhelming purview and taxed it with a monumental amount of work, especially given its time limits, but it also offered necessary and desirable latitude in terms of how it was able to proceed.

Specific terms that formed part of the mandate also needed to be defined, such as “Indigenous,” which the Inquiry interpreted as including First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Further, the Commission felt it was essential to include Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA) people in their inquiry for reasons that are both inclusive and historically relevant.

One section of the Introduction is devoted to exploring the “powers and limitations of the National Inquiry,” explaining that the mandate of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was unusual in that it came not only from the Federal government but from each province and territory as well — and that the rules and regulations for the work varied by jurisdiction, adding to the complexity of the undertaking.

As far as limitations, the authors explain that the National Inquiry has no ability to do anything but make recommendations, although it hopes that its conclusions will speak loudly enough to create the kind of pressure that effects legislative change, and that it is unable to deal with individual cases.

The Process

In carrying out its work of “truth-gathering” (what a lovely way to say it), the National Inquiry “sought to be families-first (putting the family members of lost loved ones and survivors of violence ahead of others who usually hold the power, including politicians, governments and the media), trauma-informed (supporting healing in a way that does no further harm) and decolonizing (centring Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing),” based on the guiding principle that “our women and girls are sacred.” (p. 60)

There were four parts to the truth-gathering process. Part 1 was to listen to the lived experiences of family members and survivors, and the report explains that there were various means of collecting and witnessing these stories. Parts 2 and 3 involved “Institutional Hearings” and “Expert and Knowledge-Keeper Hearings.” Part 4 was made up of “Parties with Standing,” such as non-governmental groups and Indigenous women’s organizations that had “substantial or direct interest in the subject” (p. 61). This section of the introduction explains how prospective presenters were contacted, and how the stories were gathered. It also explains such procedural issues as who were qualified to speak as Experts and Knowledge-Keepers and who was permitted to ask questions of the Institutional and Expert witnesses.

(To be continued….)

1 Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual

A Settler Reads the Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG (1)

Note to Readers: I am a fifth-generation white European settler. My predecessors included many clergy and others who certainly must have contributed extensively to the colonization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The least I can do is to read this report with an utterly open mind and to learn from it, and to share what I am learning with my children and my grandchildren and you. This series of posts will highlight some passages that stood out as I was reading each chapter, as well as noting things I have learned and what I have thought about while I was reading. I am in no rush and it will probably take me months to complete this challenge. Your comments are welcome, although they will be filtered to ensure there is no racist or inflammatory language, but only thoughtful discussion. If you don’t like my publication standards re: your comments, please complain to someone besides me.

The Preface

The Preface of The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls includes forewords from the Commissioners of the Inquiry, messages from the Directors, reflections from members of the National Family Advisory Circle and from the National Inquiry Elders and Grandmothers Circle. The Introduction to the Report, “Understanding Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA1 people,” is also included in the Preface, but I will discuss it separately.

This post includes a few of the statements and comments from the Preface that I found meaningful, and my explanations for why they stood out to me.

Jeremiah Bosse, who is the widower of Daleen Bosse, was one of the members of the National Family Advisory Circle (NFAC) – an advisory group to the National Inquiry that was made up of families and survivors.

Bosse said, “At first my thoughts about a National Inquiry were, ‘Will this actually work or help?’ Doubt wandered around my brain, knowing how many First Nations issues have been swept under the rug.

“I now hope this National Inquiry touches the hearts of the people of Canada, helping non-Indigenous people understand the need for reconciliation. 

“Today I feel hopeful for the first time that as victims of violence our words will be heard. The words of our lost ones are spoken! We will be there to represent them; they may be lost but they are not forgotten.” (p. 18)

Bosse’s words made me glad that I had made the decision to read the Report, but it also made me concerned and sad because I am sure that most people will not have the time or opportunity or willingness to read it. Comments by many other individuals from the NFAC elicited the same response in me.

Statements like Bosse’s made me decide that, rather than just reading the Report, I would write down my responses to what I had read — thereby, I hoped, attracting the interest of others in the words so carefully put down in the Report.

As well as raising many, many issues, the Preface reinforced my awareness of the common concerns that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada share at this time in history regarding the future of our land. I considered that we can learn ways of doing from the people who were here first, and was reminded that in Indigenous cultures, very often it is the women in whom this knowledge has been invested.

Rebecca Moore said, “As an l’nu woman, I have been taught by my Elders that it is our inherent duty, as l’nu women, to take care of the water and protect the land for the future seven generations. I feel this is imperative for Canadians to understand. I take my inherent duty very seriously, which requires much of my time, effort, care and attention.” (30)

“Our Women and Girls Are Sacred”

In the Preface, the authors of the Report talked about how the structure of the Inquiry had evolved. They discussed the need they had felt to incorporate ceremony and spirituality in their work.

The Elders and Grandmothers Circle was an important advisory council to the commissioners and in a sweatlodge early in the process, they and the commissioners discussed “How the national Inquiry will proceed. For the Grandmothers (and Elders), for the Commissioners. What will our work be?” (Pénélope Guay, p. 33)

They realized that an important component would be the need to have “something that showed our Indigeneity and that blanket idea came out of that. Those blankets that are hung up around the rooms [at the hearings]. Those blankets that identify people, identify their Nations, their names, their land masses, the things that they use for their cultures…. That helped to shape us and to make sure that we never forget about ceremony, to incorporate ceremony into everything that we do.” – Elder Laureen “Blu” Waters, p. 34.

The Report states, “One of the most unique ways that the Grandmothers have guided the National Inquiry is by helping us understand what ‘sacred’ looks like in everyday life and in the context of this work. What does ‘sacred mean? and if women and girls are sacred, how does that affect what we do? From the Grandmothers, we can see that the idea of women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people being ‘sacred’ is as multi-faceted as people themselves” (p. 39)

With the guidance of the Grandmothers, the National Inquiry “did its best to incorporate the local traditions and cultures into its hearings whenever possible. [….] This includes the way the rooms were arranged and the opportunity for families to access both Indigenous and Western healing supports.” (p. 38)

“As Pénélope points out, making spirituality so visible in the National Inquiry is one of the things that makes it unique: “That’s still important. It’s an inquiry, there are Commissioners. Witnesses, lawyers. Putting spirituality at the centre of this National Inquiry allows us to work in a calmer atmosphere, rooted in cultural values that are thousands of years old’.” (p. 38)

Learning from One Another

It had not occurred to me that for participants, contributing to the Inquiry would not only help to inform institutions and non-Indigenous people of the many factors that have led to the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls, but would also allow Indigenous people from different regions to learn about one another’s experiences. As time went on (it seemed to me), this outcome took on increasing importance as shared experiences among Indigenous groups built their sense of community and confidence in what they were doing.

Elder Louise Haulli, from Iglooluk Nunavet, “emphasiz[ed] how much she has learned from hearing the stories of so many other Indigenous women in Canada, and how important it is not to feel that we know it all, but to really pause, listen to the families and survivors, and learn from what they have to share.” (p. 36)

The Need to Pay Attention with Hearts as Well as Heads

Not everything I read produced an immediately positive response in me. Some statements made me react defensively. For example, when I read that Lisa Semmler, a member of the National Family Advisory Circle, had said, “I hope that all people in Canada will sit down and read everything that has been done to Indigenous people before they just say it’s our own fault. Without a shift in that thinking, nothing Is going to change” (p. 26), a voice inside my head protested, “I never said it was your fault. I have never believed that you have brought all this horror on yourselves.” But then I reminded myself that part of my purpose in reading this report is to learn how we white people are seen by Indigenous Canadians, and how Indigenous people perceive that we view others.

In relation to that reminder, here are other statements from the Preface that I highlighted so that later I would be able to reread them:

  • “Assimilation is still how the dominant culture approaches Indigenous Peoples. Somehow, we need to become them to be okay. We need to have their values. We need to have their world views. If we don’t, then there’s something psychologically wrong, deficient in us.” (Grandmother Leslie Spillett, p. 41)
  • “Ultimately it comes down to listening to Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIIA people. We have to value their voices, and fight against the stereotypes and centuries of colonization that have de-valued and dismissed the many gifts they have to offer.” (p. 43)
  • “For many non-Indigenous people, it’s important to be ready to ‘unlearn’ some learned behaviours. Blu points out, ‘There’s still a lot of others out there that don’t really think that this is that important. [….} They think these things happened 300 years ago and why are we still talking about it? If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. This is every Canadian’s responsibility not to turn a blind eye’.” (p. 45)
  • “…. whether it be water, whether it be land, whether it be suicides, whether it be missing persons, whether it be housing, whether it be lack of resources. The government has to start listening.” (Blu, p. 45)
  • “… it’s not just for Aboriginal people. Canadian society’s going to learn from what we write and what we do and what we say. They may not like some of the stuff they hear. That’s part of the healing process.” (Kathy Louis, p. 52)

Here is just one of thousands of reasons why we need to pay close attention to The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls: “Between January and September 2018, [Grandmother] Bernie lost a staggering 88 friends or family members to violence in the Downtown East Side. Children are experiencing a terrible psychosis, she says ‘and everyone just kind of turns a blind eye’.” (p. 43)

I will not turn a blind eye.

1 Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual

Want Booksellers to Stock Your Books?

A To-Do list for Authors Who Want Booksellers to Consider their Self-Published (and Traditionally Published) Books

  • Invest time and money in editing and design before your book is published. Booksellers are in business to attract customers and to keep them coming back. “Books absolutely need to be professionally produced, from editing to design and binding,” says Jessica Paul at Munro’s Books in Vancouver.
  • Price your book reasonably: check out similar books to yours and set the cover price within the range of comparable titles. Deborah Hines at Audreys Books in Edmonton says many authors price their books too high.
  • Learn about the bookstore before you approach the staff about stocking your book. Make yourself familiar with its particular “personality,” and be ready to explain how your book is going to fit with it. Best of all, become a regular customer long before your book is published, and get to know the staff.
  • Some bookstores do not want to talk to self-published authors until after the author has read the store’s information guide about consignment sales. Ask if such information is available. If you do approach a bookseller in person, avoid times when they are busy with customers.
  • Do not ask your aunts and cousins to call the store to request your book before you offer it to the bookseller. It is also very bad form to have your friends and relatives pre-order books and then cancel their orders when the books arrive at the store, thereby leaving those books available for sale. Booksellers are not stupid, and they have long memories.
  • Know that your book will be taken on consignment. Expect that the bookstore will receive 40 percent of the cover price of any book it sells.
  • Don’t pester the staff with questions about how many copies of your book have sold, and don’t expect to be paid every time a copy sells. Like publishers, booksellers do accounts and cut cheques on pre-determined schedules: they will tell you what their terms are, and you need to conform to them.
  • Develop a marketing plan that will bring local buyers to the store – to find your book and to buy books by others. Try to get local media interviews and reviews. Arrange talks and readings in your area. Become a guest on podcasts. Encourage your real-life and social-media friends to buy your book from the independent bookseller rather than online. Present your marketing plan and a brief bio to the bookseller along with the book.
  • Expect that if no copies of your book have sold within a specified time period (e.g., three to six months), you will be asked to collect your stock or see it donated or recycled. Don’t whine or argue. Just act like the professional you are, and hope for a better result the next time. If you have built a positive, professional relationship, when your next book becomes a bestseller, the bookseller may be interested in stocking this same book again. If you have offended them, you may be out of luck.
  • Keep in mind that the bookseller is doing you a favour, not the other way around. Your book may be your baby while you are writing it, but you need a business-like approach to every aspect of marketing it. Placing it in bookstores is no exception to this rule.
This list is Part Two (click here for Part I) of an article originally published in a slightly different format in the Fall, 2018 issue of Write! Magazine, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Booksellers wishing to print and distribute copies of this article to give to authors are welcome to contact me for permission.

How to Win Over Your Local Independent Bookseller

Strategies for Writers Shared by Bookstore Owners Themselves

This article was originally published in a slightly different format in the Fall, 2018 issue of Write! Magazine, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Booksellers wishing to print and distribute copies of this article to give to authors are welcome to contact me for permission.

More than ten years after the popularity and viability of self-publishing took off, most post-publication options available to conventionally published authors remain almost inaccessible to those to choose to publish their own books.

Very few self-published books are reviewed in traditional media, and with the exception of an agency or two, their authors remain ineligible for grants and conventional awards. But the literary world is changing. In 2015, The Writers Union of Canada – long the bastion of authors of traditionally published books – voted to admit to membership self-published writers who have “successfully demonstrate[d] commercial intent and professionalism”. Libraries in at least two Canadian cities – Vancouver and Victoria – are taking active roles in helping local self-published authors to find their audiences.

Times are changing in the bookstore sector, too. I recently contacted five independent booksellers from Nova Scotia to British Columbia to discover their current thinking about self-published books, and I found that most have at least developed some kind of store policy to help them manage the increasingly frequent requests from self-published authors to stock their books. Their responses to such requests vary widely – from reluctant to warm-hearted – but none is outright banning all self-published books, as many were doing even a few years ago.

However, the accommodation these booksellers extend to self-published books and authors remains exactly that: accommodation. When it comes to ordering, billing, and returning books, it is much easier for them to deal with traditional distribution outlets than with individual authors: the former require less “paperwork,” and involve fewer egos. In the vast majority of cases, when booksellers stock self-published books, they are doing so out of kindness more than from any anticipation of significant profit. And yet, many of them told me, far too many self-published writers approach bookstores with expectations and attitudes that range from presumptuous to rude.

Booksellers say that most authors, whether traditionally or self-published, have very little knowledge about how independent booksellers operate. Much of what I learned will be of use not only to self-published authors, but to any writer who finds they are expected to contributed significantly to the promotion of their books – which, today, is almost all of us.

Bookselling Basics for Writers

The following basics are among those of use to would-be petitioners:

  • Booksellers love books. Some of them are also writers, but all of them are avid readers. Often they have actually read most of the books they stock, and they know many of their authors. They also know the likes and dislikes of their customers. Over time, their bookstores have developed a particular character that is unlike that of any other. Curation, care and attention are what distinguish independent booksellers from the mass-market outlets that treat books with the same level of affection they accord to refrigerators.
  • Bookstores do not have unlimited space, which means that of all the books they would like to carry, booksellers can only stock a fraction. Since it is almost as hard to make a living from selling books as it is from writing, bookstore owners also need to consider which books will actually sell – rather than merely stocking books to make the authors happy.
  • Authors whose books are considered to be of sufficient merit to be stocked by an independent bookseller are privileged to bask in the reflection of the store’s reputation. That same reputation is undermined if the authors’ books are poorly written, edited and produced.
  • Booksellers who deal with self-published authors will sell their books on a consignment basis. They will typically retain 40% of the cover price of books sold, which is the same percentage they retain with traditional publishers and distributors, and the balance will go to the author. Books that do not sell are returned to the author.
  • Booksellers are extraordinarily busy, and it is always of more value to them to use their time to talk to prospective customers than to prospective vendors – whether publishers’ representatives or individual self-published authors.
  • Booksellers are human. If you exhibit no interest in them or their bookstore until the day you stop by, plunk down a stack of books, and explain that your title is going to sell like crazy and they’d be fools not to take it, their response may be less warm than you might like.

Booksellers’ Perspectives: A Range of Responses

Some highly curated bookstores continue to refuse approaches from self-published authors almost every time. Ben McNally at Ben McNally Books in Toronto says, “We basically say ‘No’ to self-published authors, but then we usually say ‘No’ to Simon & Schuster and Random House as well. We are in the business of selling books, not displaying them.” Any exceptions McNally makes are going to be for books that fit their very particular niche.

Michelle Berry, herself an author and also the owner of Hunter Street Books in Peterborough, ON and a widely published fiction writer herself, explains that she has set up a bookshelf specifically dedicated to the display of self-published books, and she provides their authors’ contact information to customers who are interested. She has found this a viable approach since she is the store’s sole employee and her time is so limited.

Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, N.S. – where two out of the three owners are also published writers – does stock a significant number of self-published books, mostly non-fiction, some children’s literature, primarily local. They do not accept books that have been published by Amazon’s self-publishing arm, due to Amazon’s business practices.

Co-owner and author Jo Treggiari says that Lexicon Books sees itself as a community centre, and welcomes group activities on its premises, like book discussions and readings. Staff members as a group review and select self-published books carefully, typically accepting only those by authors from the area, or ones on subjects that are so specific to the region that traditional publishers would be unlikely to accept them (e.g., a book on Nova Scotia mosses, or a memoir by a local fisherman).

Similarly, Audreys Books, a large independent bookstore in Edmonton that has been championing Canadian books and authors since 1975, also describes itself as a “cultural community centre,” and has now assigned a staff person to acquire and manage its inventory of self-published books. Deborah Hines says that half a dozen self-published authors approach the store each week, and she estimates that there are between 40 and 60 self-published books on their shelves at any given time. Authors must drop their books off along with an information sheet, and give Hines and her colleagues time to examine the book and make a decision on whether or not they will stock it. Like other bookstores, they prefer to stock self-published books by local authors, or those with a particular local slant.

“Authors should have a marketing plan,” Hines says, “so that people will come in and buy the books we stock. Otherwise, no one is going to notice them.” Audreys will also host a book launch, for a modest fee to cover costs.

Munro’s Books in Victoria, arguably Canada’s best-known independent bookstore, has also developed a list of guidelines and a questionnaire for its Consignment Program. Jessica Paul, assistant manager at Munro’s, recommends that authors not approach the store in person, but that they request the guidelines, complete the form, and then wait for a decision.

“The biggest piece of advice to self-published authors,” Paul says, “is to acknowledge and then treat their book as either a ‘vanity’ project (i.e., really of interest only to friends and family, which means that we are not likely to want to stock it), or to come at it like a publisher would, with a marketing and publicity plan. They should also keep in mind that getting a book on a bookstore shelf is not a publicity plan.”


Coming Soon: “To-Do List for Authors Who Want Booksellers to Consider Their Books”
Thanks to Doyali Islam for editing this article pre-publication in Write.

Amazon Author Pages: Build Your Presence in the USA, the UK, Germany, India, and beyond

Let’s Get Visible (IV)
How to Sell Your Book No Matter Who Published It (7)

Figure 1

Figure 1: Sample Link to my Author Page from Book Description page

Through its Author Central program, Amazon provides a great opportunity to expand your presence by linking information about you to all editions of all your books – not only on the amazon.com site in the U.S., but also on Amazon sites in other countries. It takes a bit of time to get yourself set up on these platforms, but maintaining your presence once the pages are set up requires very little effort.

While you are at Author Central, you can check out your sales figures through Nielsen BookScan and Amazon Sales and Author ranks, and read all of your Amazon reviews in one place. All of which can be depressing experiences, but there they are. (See Figure 2, below)

Start with your Amazon.com Author Page

Start by completing the Author Page on amazon.com (Amazon’s U.S. site). Once you have done that, readers who are looking at the “About the Author” section of your book’s title information on Amazon will be invited to check out your Page and to “follow” you (see Figure 1, above).

In order to set up your Author Page on Amazon, first go to Author Central. The page is user-friendly, and setting up your Author Page is the first thing it explains to you. Follow the link, follow the instructions, and you’re done. When you’re finished, your Amazon Author page will look like this (except, of course, that it will feature you instead of me).

A few things to note:

  • Anyone with a book listed in the Amazon “catalog” can have an Amazon Author Page.
  • You can set up links to your blog site on the Author Page, and intros to your newest posts will appear there after you post them on your blog.
  • If you have any videos you want to share, you can post links to them on your Author Page as well.
  • There is a section on the Author Page where you can add speaking engagements, readings and other events. I don’t use this section because since I am not Stephen King I don’t think that it would be worth my time to post in it, in terms of who would see the notices. Posting about my upcoming appearances on Facebook is more likely to attract the attention of people who might attend – i.e., those who live in my city and might even know my name. (I also have a section for events on my website which I don’t always remember to update either.)
  • You can post a link to your Amazon Author Page on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else you want to: Amazon provides the url in the upper right corner of your Author Page. You cannot, however, post a clickable link to your website on your Author Page: at least as far as I’ve been able to determine. (If you have done it, let me know.)
  • You can link all of your books to your Amazon author profile, including those from different publishers, as long as the books are available on Amazon. If you have changed your name or your books are out of print, you may have trouble with the links, but I have found that in the past couple of years, Amazon has become increasingly helpful when I run into any problems. They have a specific page on which you can email them with any problems relating to Author Central here.

Increasing your World-Famousness, Amazon-style

Once you have completed your amazon.com Author Page, you can fill in the same information on the Amazon Author Central site in the UK. If you are multilingual, or want to try posting your bio in English in non-English-speaking countries (I haven’t done this… at least not yet), you can set up a page on the amazon sites in Germany, France and Japan through their Author Central pages:

For other countries that have Amazon sites (including India and Spain, for example. Hey! I just found out that my Rita book has a five-star review in India! I never would have noticed this if I hadn’t written this blog post!), the information from Author Central at Amazon.com should be available to readers automatically. The one exception I have discovered to this practice is on amazon.ca, the one located in my own home country. I find amazon.ca very aggravating for many reasons, not just this one, and prefer to deal with amazon.com

Figure 2

Figure 2: Recent Amazon Sales Rankings

Although having an Author Page in German would probably be of more use to someone whose book had been translated into German than to one whose book hadn’t, it doesn’t hurt to spread your name around. If you have the time and inclination and decide to set up an English page for yourself on the Japanese Amazon site, let us know how it goes. And it’s definitely fun to check out your sales figures from time to time – and watch them climb, we hope, in relation to your various marketing efforts.


Next time, I’ll be talking about getting yourself an author profile on GoodReads. In the meantime, I apologize to all of those who have tried to contact me in the past few weeks when I was out of town and then side-tracked: I forgot for several weeks to check the email address to which comments on this blog are sent for approval. Argh. Particular apologies to Michael Lowecki who left wonderful messages all over the place and must think me very rude. I resolve to do better in future. :)







Building an Author Presence on Facebook

My Facebook Author Profile page

Let’s Get Visible (III)
How to Sell Your Book No Matter Who Published It (6)

If you are not on Facebook, you probably have a lot of good reasons not to be there, maybe relating to privacy issues or concerns about wasting valuable (writing) time. However, if you are not on Facebook, you can’t build yourself an author platform on Facebook, so you might as well just skip this post and wait until the next one comes along.

Personal Facebook Pages: Friends and Followers

If you are one of the more than 1 billion people who are on Facebook, that means that you already have a personal Facebook page or “profile.” People can ask to “friend” you on your Facebook profile and you can agree by “friending” them in return.

Most of us have the privacy settings on our personal Facebook pages set so that only our Facebook friends can see our posts. However, if you set the privacy on your personal Facebook page to “Public” under Settings, you can be “followed” as well as “friended.”

Anyone on Facebook can “follow” you if your default privacy setting is “public”: they don’t need to ask you for permission first. If you decline friend requests, the people who sent them can still follow you – unless you block them.  Your friends are also automatically also your followers. Followers can see anything you post with a security setting of “Public,” but unless they are also friends, they can’t see any individual posts that you set for broadcast only to “Friends.” (You have the option of “Friends” only or “Public” publication for every post you create, no matter what your permanent/default setting is.)

Some authors have only a personal Facebook profile. They prefer to let anyone who wants to follow them see almost everything they post, and they use “Public” as their default setting. They do this as a favour to readers who want to know everything they can about their favourite authors. They think it feels more personal. And they also do it because more people are likely to follow your personal Facebook page than they are to “like” a professional or business page.

I, on the other hand, prefer to have a professional Facebook page in addition to my personal Facebook page. On my personal page, I have set my privacy so that only people I have “friended” can see my posts. Even  though I have 500 plus friends on Facebook, and I don’t actually know quite a few of them in real life, I have vetted every single person I have agreed to friend. (A lot of them are writers, from all over the world. I love it.) I’ve made sure they are a real person, and that if they don’t know me directly in real life, they have solid friendships with one or more of my other Facebook friends. I delete them – poof, they’re gone – if it turns out that I don’t like or trust them.

Professional Facebook Pages: Where you can get “Liked”

A professional Facebook page is the platform on Facebook that is used by businesses, public figures, organizations and other entities that are not individuals… including many writers, such as me. Facebook pages offer different options than do personal pages: e.g., templates, links to websites, selling platforms, etc. Facebook business/professional pages don’t acquire “friends”; they accumulate “likes” instead. When someone likes your Facebook writer page, you will be notified, and when you post something on your writer page, it will appear in the timelines/newsfeeds of all people who liked your page. (You can also “promote” your page or one of your posts by spending money. We’ll get into that later, when we’re talking about paid advertising.)

Note: If you don’t have a personal Facebook page, you won’t be able to set up a business/professional page.

My Mary W. Walters Writer page is public. Anyone can see it, and anyone can like it. This means that I’m careful of what I say on my writer page. I don’t talk politics or religion or (usually) sex. I don’t want to lose potential readers of my books just because our political opinions don’t mesh, nor do I want to attract sock puppets.

I do talk about politics, religion and many other things on my personal Facebook page, but I don’t push my writing there: I am there to exchange thoughts with friends, tell them news from my life, vent my spleen, or make them laugh. I always hope that my personal Facebook page is interesting enough that everyone who sees it will want to read my books as well, but I don’t use it as a deliberate sales vehicle.

I do repost items from my writer page to my personal page that I consider “objective” information rather than sales pitches: such as notices about readings and talks I am giving, and announcements of blog posts such as this one. But most of what I post on Facebook in any given week (which is way too much) goes out only to my “friends” via my personal Facebook page.

For me, this arrangement is easier than trying to remember to set every post I make to “friends” or “public” visibility. Also, when people have “liked” my professional writer Facebook page, they are essentially requesting information about Mary the Writer, so I don’t feel badly when I tell them what I’m doing with my writing, or about writing-related achievements, or any accolades my books have received.

How to Set Up An Author Page on Facebook 

On the right hand side of the blue bar across the top of your personal Facebook page, you will see a little arrow pointing down. Click on it, choose “Create Page,” and then follow the instructions. You will need to choose what kind of Page to have: whether a “business or company” page (probably the best choice if you want to sell books directly from Facebook, which I don’t), a “brand or product page” (might be good if you have only one book or series to sell), an “entertainment” page (I’d guess that spoken word poets looking for gigs might want to check this out, although I haven’t), or a “public profile” page. I chose the latter. I like the sound of it. :)

Once you’ve chosen your page category, you can indicate your particular area of focus. “Writer” is one of the options on the “public profile” page, and probably also on Entertainment and Company pages.

Facebook is very user-friendly when it comes to setting up a page, so just follow the directions. If you get stuck, type in your questions under “Help,” and for further guidance check out other writers’ Facebook pages to see what they are including and posting. There is an option under the three dots below your cover photo to see how the page looks to visitors, which I find handy.

Maintaining Your Facebook Writer’s Page

Facebook will send a friendly reminder to you when you haven’t posted on your author’s page for a while, but I try to remember to post something there at least once a week. It may be an article from elsewhere about writing or about one of my favourite writers, or it may be a notice about a new blog post I’ve done or a reading I’m about to do. I have my Goodreads profile set up to repost notices automatically to my writer’s page on Facebook about books I’ve read, etc.

I think of my Facebook writer’s page the way I do about my website: it is there if anyone is looking for me, and it is important to be there in case anyone does look for me. If they do, and if they “like” my page, they deserve to hear interesting things from me from time to time: about my writing, or about writing in general. They can find links to my books and my website and other online things they might want to check out about me from that page, and I let them know when there are special discounts happening on my books on Amazon or elsewhere.

However, I don’t think of my Facebook writer page as a page where I am likely to attract new buyers for my books. People don’t like being harangued about how they should buy my books, so I don’t harangue them, and haranguing doesn’t work anyway (as I have said before. Several times). So the page is just part of the wallpaper.

You should keep in mind when you are building your Facebook author page that it’s not likely to be much of a marketing vehicle. The wallpaper should be hung straight, and look nice and tidy, but don’t bother making it flash in the dark or animate it or do anything else that is going to waste your precious time unnecessarily.

P.S. If you like MY Facebook Writer’s Page and then ask me to like YOUR Facebook writer’s page, I will, and that will help us both. You can also add your Facebook author page link to the comments section below so other readers can follow your page and you can follow theirs, and so on….


As always I encourage readers to share their experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.



How to Sell your Book, No Matter Who Published It (5)

Using your Website to Promote your Book

(Let’s get visible, Part II)

You do have a website, right?

An author website is essential to your promotional efforts. Even if you have a page on your publisher’s website, you should have one of your own as well. Remember that no one is more interested in the well being of you and your books than you are: not your agent, not your editor, not your publisher’s promotion department. They all have other horses in their stables. Their interest in you grows and wanes, depending on the season. Your interest in your career remains, by contrast, consistently high. You are the only one who will make it your priority to update your website with the latest news and the most recent publications.

It goes without saying that you should own the domain that is your name (for example in my case, marywwalters.com), and once you own it, you might as well use it.

A website is a static element of book promotion. This means, on the negative side, that it’s not going reach out and grab anyone: people who want to see it need to come to it intentionally. You can invite them, but they aren’t going to come unless they have a good reason to do so. Therefore, with a website, you are investing time and money in something that is just going to sit there like some 18th-century society hostess, waiting for visitors to come to her. This is a good reason not to break the bank when it comes to website construction.

On the other hand, a website serves many purposes once someone does land on it (as did the salons of the aforementioned hostesses, I’m sure). In addition, once you’ve created it, you don’t have to update it very often. The only changes I make semi-regularly to my website are the upcoming and recent events, although occasionally (when I’m procrastinating on something else I should be doing) I will add a new photo or a new quote from a particularly nice review.

What Does A Writer’s Website Need to Include?

Back in the day (i.e., when I was working as editor in chief at Lone Pine Publishing, and during the years when I was reviewing books), publishers used to create “media packages” to send out with the review copies of the books they published.

Books editors at magazines and newspapers (remember them?) would receive a copy of the newly published book (or an advance copy, if the author was well known) with photocopied pages tucked inside. These pages of promo and background materials might include:

  • a bio of the author along with information on other books or stories or articles that person had published;
  • a brief summary of the book itself (the kind of thing that was usually also found on the flaps of the book or the back cover);
  • blurbs (a sentence or two each) about the book that had been solicited from other writers, or excerpts of reviews of the author’s previous books;
  • contact information for the publisher, and the author’s agent or the author;
  • upcoming author appearances on radio, tv, or in person; and
  • (sometimes) an excerpt from the book

These are the same elements you should make available on your website to help promote your book. If you have more than one book, you can have a page for each.

When I reviewed books, I was very happy to receive a raft of print materials as the information contained in them allowed me to include background on the author and the book, and directed me to other resources I might want to check out before starting my review. This was in the days before online searches were available, s0 the more information I was given, the better.

Your website should fulfil a similar purpose for those writing reviews on blogs or in traditional media, and for readers who want to know what else you have written and done. It should also provide contact information for those who want to invite you to do a reading or a workshop.

A website should look professional, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be created by a professional web designer: most of us can’t afford one. Fortunately, creating a website has become very easy – you don’t need to know html or any other technical language – and most web hosts (e.g., SquareSpace, BlueHost, GoDaddy, etc.), will walk you through the process of creating one, and help you by phone 24-7 if you get stuck. If you Google “Best web hosts for non-techies” or something like that, you’ll get lots of suggestions. If you really don’t want to do it yourself, ask friends and relatives to refer you to someone – perhaps a student – who can help.

While I think it is a good idea to pay for technical help if you need it, there’s no reason to purchase a Cadillac manufacturer. I once paid $2,500 for a website, and I hated it and I had endless problems trying to change the elements that I didn’t like. The sites I have now are very user friendly.

How Many Websites Do You Need?

I used to have a different website for each of my five books, one for my editing and grantwriting businesses, and one for me. That got to be expensive and time-consuming. Now I just have one website for my literary works. (I continue to maintain another one for my grantwriting initiatives, because that one speaks to a different audience, and there’s too much detailed information on it to be suited to my writer website.) On the other hand, for one of my clients whose book is a byproduct of his business rather than the core of it, we did create a website where the book itself was the main focus.

At my own website, where all of my books are listed, all of the information in the bulleted list above is available, no matter which book a reader/reviewer is interested in exploring.

How Much do You Need to Spend?

You need to invest in two components to create a website: a domain name, which is like the sign with your business name on it, and a web-hosting site, which is where you hang your sign.

You own your domain name as long as you maintain your ownership of it, and you can transfer it from web host to web host if you find the hosting unsatisfactory. You can also sell your domain name if someone wants to buy it down the road. A domain name should cost you no more than about $25 (it will probably cost much less), and you will need to renew it annually. Sometimes web hosts offer a free domain name if you purchase a hosting package, but this usually includes only the initial registration. You will need to continue to pay to own it annually.

The web host is where you hang your sign, or park your domain, and you will pay rent to the host for the use of that space for as long as you want to have it. Depending on how much you want to include on your website, you can spend from about $50 to $150 annually for website hosting. If you are not building the website yourself, you will also incur a one-time cost to build the website.

One of the first things people look for when they want to know more about you is your website. I hardly ever think about mine now that it is up, but when I occasionally get around to checking the traffic on it (which you can do through the web host – tracking visitors will be part of the package you purchase – or through a web-wide system like Google Analytics; I use both) I am always surprised to see how many new and returning visitors have been checking out my site each month.

The website is the first step in building your online presence. Next time we’ll talk about creating your Facebook author page, and then about other “static” components of your book promotion plan.


As always I encourage readers to share their experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.