What a great idea! Books on the Bus in Red Deer

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.46.58 PMI am grateful to Write, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada, for alerting me to a brilliant initiative now underway in Red Deer, Alberta (Canada) called Books on the Bus.

Buses in Red Deer now feature mini-libraries from which riders can borrow a book to read to themselves or their kids as they wend their way through town. They can also borrow the books for the weekend or the week, or even longer, and return them when they’ve finished reading them – or  they can “share the books with friends and family” and never return them at all. They can also donate books for the mini-libraries at various Red Deer locations.

Like the neighbourhood book boxes that are (happily) appearing everywhere, all of this happens at no cost to readers (aside from bus fare, in this case). “Books for all ages and reading abilities are available including children’s books, graphic novels and fiction and non-fiction for adults,” says the City of Red Deer’s website, which goes on to point out that “Providing access to literacy materials is a poverty reduction strategy identified by the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA).”

Genius! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of this idea before, and I think it should be happening everywhere. Which is why I am telling you about it.


Book Promotion Tip of the Week #12: Get Lucky, and Live with the Guilt

To Warn Prospective Buyers or Not To Warn: That Is the Question

This week, the outstanding American novelist Claire Messud published her fourth book of fiction. It is entitled The Woman Upstairs. My first novel (1989) is also entitled The Woman Upstairs.

The publication of Claire Messud’s new novel is an event that I, along with thousands of others, have eagerly anticipated. I read The Emperor’s Children, and was impressed. Messud has won several prestigious writing awards and, according to Wikipedia, was even “considered for the 2003 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list, although none of the three passports she holds is British.” That’s how good she is.

Little did I know that the publication of Messud’s newest book was going to be of some modest financial benefit to me. But it has been: ever since the pre-promotion started on her latest novel, sales of my first novel have increased. Not enough to save me from financial ruin, by any means: we’re talking maybe ten books a week total on amazon, including both the Kindle version and the paperback. (And who knows? Maybe one or two of those book buyers really did intend to buy my book.)

Nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable. I feel like my book is selling under false pretenses, and that I should put some kind of warning on my book’s page on amazon – BEWARE: THIS MAY NOT BE THE NOVEL YOU THINK IT IS!!!

On the other hand, my name IS on my Woman Upstairs. I’m not trying to impersonate Ms. Messud. And I was there first, having chosen my title very carefully many years ago. (It refers to three entities: to the mother of my protagonist, who is dying in an upstairs room;  to the protagonist’s landlady and friend, who lives on the main floor of the house where Diana has the basement suite: and — of course — to the female correlative of “The Man Upstairs,” which is how some people refer to God.)

Occasionally someone returns a copy of my Woman Upstairs to amazon, and I can hardly blame them: in fact, I am surprised more of the people who have bought my book by mistake have not returned it. Maybe they don’t know they can.

Friends and loved ones tell me I should not feel guilty, but should just accept it. Not much else I can do, short of adding the warning, which is a silly idea really. (Titles are not copyrightable, by the way, and even if they were, I wouldn’t, so don’t even go there.) I sometimes wonder what will happen if Claire Messud’s Woman Upstairs wins some big award.  (You go, girl.)

I also hope that, having bought my book by mistake, perhaps a few people will accidentally read it, and will like it enough to purchase something else I’ve written  — like The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel or The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid.

On the other hand, they might well intentionally read my novel, like it, and then go off and buy other books that Claire Messud has written. I guess that would be fair.

In the meantime, I’ll use some of my ill-gotten gains to purchase The (Other) Woman Upstairs, and maybe that will help to salve my conscience. Even though I was going to buy it anyway.

And I guess I’ll get back to work on my next novel (working title: Moby Dick).

A potentially costly typo. Seeking guidance.

(Update: Decision made. See end of post)

A careful reader has caught a typo in The Whole Clove Diet (print version), in Chapter 15. It’s important because it’s a date (the new year is 1999 but I made a mistake and said 1998) but the mistake isn’t part of the title: it’s buried in a paragraph.

The title of Chapter One shows that the novel starts in Sept. 1998. Later in the book, I flash forward to Dec. 31, 1999 for one chapter, but the book actually ends in Oct 1999.

There may be some other typos in the book — not many I hope, as it has been through several editors and proofreaders — but this one is unusual. It’s important to me that no one get confused about the flash-forward year. But maybe no one cares, or will ever notice.

I hate mistakes. If I don’t change it, it’s going to bug me forever. I’ll be grabbing books out of people’s hands and correcting the mistake with a pen before they come across it on their own.

Do I spend $50 now and fix it — I haven’t actually started promotion on TWCD yet, and only a few copies are in print — or leave it? What would you do? (I guess I’d have to sell about 20 copies of the book to cover this cost. Then there’s all the rest of the money I’ve put into it. Which is both an argument against spending another $50 and an argument for spending it.)

(And before anyone else says it: Yes, I know this is a first-world problem. But it’s my first-world problem, and it matters to me. Among many other reasons, I want to show that self-published books CAN be really well edited.)

(P.S. And isn’t it great that with Print on Demand, you CAN edit after the book has been released? I think so.)

Update: Thank you all for your feedback. I am going to invest the $50 and make that change, plus a couple of other minor changes that have also been identified by my FINAL proof reader. :) You were all correct: I could not have lived with that particular error.

Coming soon to this space: A review of a straight-to-DVD film from Pinder & Martin in the UK, called The Agent, which will agonize any literary writer who either has or has longed to have a top-quality literary agent.

Mary’s Writing and Publishing Browsery for June 14 2011

Here is an (annotated, of course: I rarely keep my opinions to myself) accumulation of interesting items about writing and publishing that I’ve come across (or been referred to by others) in the past few weeks:

  • For the inside track on the appalling impact of previous sales figures on book-publishing decisions, check out Steven Henighan’s amazing article “The BookNet Dictatorship” in Geist. If you’re a mid-list writer who can’t get an agent or publisher to read your manuscript, maybe this is why. And this happens everywhere – in the UK and US, for example, as well as in Canada;
  • In this YouTube video, Margaret Atwood displays her drawing talents in a presentation to the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York in February. I love her “Change Isn’t Good For Everyone” slide in particular (it is so Atwoodesque), but I think the half-empty glass she sees may also be viewed as half full it. Many of the problems she raises re: technology and books are caused by publishers, not by technology, and imho the structure that links writers (and editors!) inextricably with publishers and agents is already outdated. The United Artists model she suggests is relevant, and many groups of “indie-minded” writers are now banding together to apply that model to books;
  • Unbound is an independent publishing initiative where interested readers can pledge financial support to bring a writer’s work to press, helping to support the writing process of specific books in exchange for rewards such as lunch with the author and a mention in the acknowledgements (Kickstarter is a similar initiative that encompasses the range of creative projects.);
  • An item in Business Insider, “This 26-Year-Old Is Making Millions Cutting Out Traditional Publishers With Amazon Kindle,” profiles Amanda Hocking, the young author who is fulfilling the wildest dreams of legions of self-published writers by selling hundreds of thousands of her books and keeping 70% of the profits;
  • Another Business Insider article, “Suddenly, Amazon Starts Competing With Its Biggest Suppliers,” introduces Amazon’s latest initiative: its own publishing division. As fellow Writers Union member Art Slade pointed out, perhaps this will encourage other publishers to pay their authors more of (their own) money on electronic books. Otherwise, to me—an author who is looking with interest at the stripped-down model of getting good books to readers in which publishers are superfluous—this move by Amazon makes no sense.  Why not add an editing imprint, rather than a publishing imprint??
  • Finally, to mid-list author Neal Pollack’s article in the New York Times, “The Case for Self-Publishing,” I can only say “amen.”

For those who are not familiar with The Militant Writer blog, I direct your attention to two of my own recent articles: “As Publishers, Agents and Booksellers (unfortunately) (for them) Go The Way of the Dodo, Writers Learn To Fly” and “The Author as Publisher.” More articles in this series will follow as I have time to write them.

In the meantime, I encourage you to let me know if you see items on book publishing and writing that might be of interest for future Browsery columns. You can email me at marywwalters at marywwalters.com

Thanks for leads to the articles in this edition of The Browsery from Larry Anderson, Dwight Okita, Gerry Riskin, Marion Stein and a panelist at a Writers Union forum whose name eludes me.

Curb Dreams

by Mary W. Walters

originally published in Open Book Toronto

Waiting for the lights to change at Bay and King, I looked happily up at the office buildings and through a gap in the high-rises to the southwest at the CN Tower lit up in blue and red. Even after two months, I still could not believe that I was actually living in Toronto — a city that I found endlessly appealing for its size and sprawliness, its geographical and cultural variety, its human diversity, its sounds, its smells, its industry and (most particularly, to my mind) its status as one of the world’s great writing and publishing centres.

A friend and I had decided to walk, despite the dampness of the afternoon, from College Street down to Front, where we would survey the rich literary wares on offer at Nicholas Hoare Books. Just ahead of us now was Harbourfront, where internationally renowned writers read to captivated audiences. A few miles back were the publishing houses whose logos had marked the spines of books I’d been reading since I was a child — McClelland & Stewart, HarperCollins Canada, Penguin. From the very spot where I now stood on the street corner, I was sure — if I only knew which way to look — I would see a few of the windows to the mysterious aeries where the literary agents dwelled.

I laughed aloud from my pleasure just to be there, and my friend pulled me closer in a hug to share my joy. I wished that I could have beamed my feelings of excitement and anticipation back across the miles to the friends and family I’d left in western Canada — most of whom had received the news that I was packing up everything I owned and moving all alone to Toronto with a mixture of indulgent good wishes and mystification. There had probably also been prayers for both my safety and my sanity (Toronto being, after all, the city most Canadians love to hate).

But I had done it. And here I was: poised on that very curb that very afternoon — ready, I firmly believed, to fulfill my destiny as a fiction writer.

* * *

Mine is not an uncommon story. Every year, hundreds or possibly thousands of aspiring writers, actors, designers, visual artists and musicians make the trek east from the frozen prairie by bus or plane or car (or west, from the Atlantic stormlands), their backpacks set, suitcases rolling along behind them, their gazes lifting with their hearts as the office towers emerge from the mists like physical representations of their dreams. Nor is my story uniquely Canadian: it repeats itself in big cities all over the world — from Mumbai to London and New York — and has for generations. Whenever and wherever there are dreamers in the hinterlands, there will be those who will make their ways toward the cities.

So I was just one of many — but in my case, there was a twist. Most of my fellow-travelers were kids: 18 years old or less, 25 at most — young people who’d been motivated to take action by the need and determination to fulfill their destinies before real adult life intervened. I, on the other hand, was 59, with much of my adult life behind me, and my dream had been 30 years in the percolation.

I hadn’t even figured out the nature of my destiny until after I’d had children. Although I’d once imagined myself as a translator at the UN, I’d set my sights on more proximate goals — obtaining a degree, falling in love, getting married and starting a family. Still, something was always missing — some part of me felt underdeveloped. I took piano lessons, a course in clothing design, aerobics. And then, one day, age 29, I signed up for a correspondence course in fiction writing… and my fate was sealed.

In the years that followed, as I raised my children and gradually acquired the editing skills that allowed me to earn a living, I also wrote and published dozens of short stories, works of creative non-fiction and two novels. I wrote radio dramas and documentaries. I won writing awards, critical accolades and even an entry in Who’s Who in Canada. But I was unable to extend my fiction-writing reputation beyond the West. I came to believe (to the scorn of many of my fellow prairie writers) that if I wanted to fulfill my dreams for my fiction and myself, I would need to move closer to Canada’s largest centre for the literary arts.

By the time my first book of non-fiction was released, my kids were well launched and my daily life was my own again. As an editor and writing consultant, my physical location no longer mattered: I could earn a living in cyberspace. I decided that moving to Toronto would provide me with the kind of big-city environment I had always found inspiring, and I decided that it was now or never. The fiction writer in me smiled at these decisions, and stretched, and opened up her arms to opportunity.

So here I am, with all the younger dreamers, and I’m holding some cards they’re not. A few them will find success in their chosen fields, but before long most of them will need to relinquish their artistic hopes in favour of the joys and realities of adult life: marriages, careers and children.

I, on the other hand, have all the time in the world… not to mention thirty years of credentials and experience. In my more mature and serious moments, I imagine that I am here not only for myself, but also for them: the wide-eyed talents who are standing beside me on the street corners (not to mention the ones back home who, in their late twenties or mid-thirties are just now discovering their passions). I’m here to remind them to be patient and to practise: there will be time for them to stretch and fly after the kids grow up. I’m here to tell them, too, that if they nurture and groom their talents, they will have as many dreams at 60 as they did at 17.

But most of the time I’m not mature and serious. Most of the time I’m just a kid standing on a Toronto street corner, imagining a red-carpet of a future rolling out before me as I step down off the curb.

News, some more exciting than the rest

by Mary W. Walters

Today I received the first copies of my newest book!

Today my humour article, “Managing Writers in The Workplace,” was published by The Rumpus!

The Google Settlement is under scrutiny and may be totally overhauled!

(For other news, please go elsewhere. This is all I know.)

— A Bit Giddy in Saskatoon