Thursday, September 30, 2010

HNT - Social Media Week

I started this week on Sunday at Word on the Street, first appearing at the Horror Writers Association booth and then later talking on the Digital Drive stage about how authors can use social media.  Just before we went on stage, Anita took the following picture of the panelists and tweeted it. Somewhat appropriate (and perhaps expected) for the topic we were discussing.

Julie Wilson, Nina Lassam, me, Anita Windisman

Then, last night, one of my social media heroes, Terry Fallis, appeared at McMaster for the Hamilton launch of his new novel THE HIGH ROAD and a special announcement from the Mills Memorial Library about the acquisition of the "Fallis Archives" (a special collection of Terry's writing and memorabilia that will be held at the McMaster Library)

Here's a picture taken of the event, which included a great talk by Terry followed by a book signing and reception which was held in the Lyons New Media Centre.

And one of Terry, his neice Alexandra and I having a bite to eat after the event. (Of course, every time I use "and I" and am unsure of my use, I wonder if Terry's character Angus McLintock would made a snide remark about my use of the language) The picture was taken by library archivist Carl Spadoni.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

McMaster Celebrates Terry Fallis

Late this afternoon, I am very proud that Titles Bookstore and the McMaster Library are joining together to host a special evening with McMaster Alumnus Terry Fallis.  From 4:30 to 6:00 PM today a gathering and celebration of this innovative and landscape-changing author will be held on the 4th floor of the Mills Library in the Lyons New Media Centre as he launches his novel The High Road.

What better place than a "new media centre" to celebrate a McMaster graduate who broke the mold by venturing into the land of published author a whole new way, by boldly charting a course not before seen in Canada and by helping one of Canada's oldest publishers journey into a whole new frontier for publishing.

It was in 2005 when Fallis, who calls himself a "serial procrastinator" finally wrote a novel he'd wanted to write since 1978.  It was called The Best Laid Plans and was about a burned-out political strategist plan to get out of politics by managing an unelectable candidate in a federal election in order to kill his credibility -- except the plan goes awry when the candidate, a grumpy old professor, becomes unexpectedly popular with the voters.

In 2006 he started sending it out to agents and publishers but wasn't getting any response. So he decided to build an audience for the book and self-publish it.

Starting in January 2007 he podcast the novel, chapter by chapter for free and an audience of thousands of people from all over the world started listening. His audience continued to grow and the self-published book was released in September 2007.  The book was stocked by several different forward-thinking bookstores (ahem, like Titles Bookstore McMaster University) and a launch for the book was held at McMaster.

In March of 2008, everything changed, as The Best Laid Plans was nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

Within a week, Fallis had an agent, and shortly after winning the award on April 30th, 2008, he had a publishing contract with McClelland and StewartThe Best Laid Plans was published and relaunched under the M&S imprint and the sequel, The High Road was released in September 2010.

Fallis and McClelland and Stewart made publishing history when the publisher allowed him to begin podcasting the entire novel, again for free, chapter by chapter, in the summer of 2010.

And now Terry is touring with his new novel, which people are buying in boatloads and proving that the traditional publishing world doesn't have to be stagnant and old, and that even a 100 year old publisher can take a bold risk, embrace new technology and new media and be successful.

Of course, the bottom line, IMHO, for why this is successful isn't the technology, nor the "hey that's neat" factor.  Yes, it's how Fallis initially got the attention of readers and publishers alike.  But just getting attention isn't enough.  First, your novel has to be GOOD.

And the fact is that Fallis is a solid writer. His novels are well-written and hilarious, with just the right injection of sentimentality when you least expect it. When I first started reading The Best Laid Plans I was struck with similarities between Fallis and John Irving. There are bizarrely humorous moments in both of his novels that actually made me laugh out loud. And there are beautifully written passages that I've stopped to re-read and then read aloud.  (I call that John Irving-syndrome because Irving was the first author whose prose made me do that when I discovered the phenomenal novel A Prayer for Owen Meany all those years ago)

I can't wait for today's event at McMaster, the very special announcement from the library regarding Fallis, and I'm revelling in watching Terry's amazing success.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Clifford Goes To The Restroom

The other night while my son and I were reading a Clifford The Big Red Dog book that he'd picked up at the school library, I had a strange thought.

And it only took me about 35 years to come up with it, too.

You see, when I was young, I was a big fan of Clifford. The first Clifford book I remember reading was Clifford's Halloween.  Yes, like my son, I'd always liked Halloween, so despite his many different adventures, I'll always think of Clifford as this gigantic dog dressed up in a giant sheet as a ghost for my favourite holiday. 

Alexander loves tales of Clifford as a big red dog but also the stories of him as a small puppy.  As an adult, I find the small red puppy tales more interesting and amusing.

But the other night, while we were reading Clifford Gets A Job, a book in which there's a bit of reality introduced into the imaginative concept of the oversized dog -- the fact that it takes an incredible amount of food to keep this dog properly fed -- I wondered about another thing I'd never thought of before.

So where the heck does this big red dog go poo?

And what the heck kind of horrible job would it be picking up after THAT?

Where would the family put it?  And even if Clifford buried it, there'd be these piles larger than their house.  Imagine the smell.  Imagine the complaints the neighbours would make.  They're in their backyard, entertaining the in-laws, having a wonderful BBQ and then Clifford goes into the backyard next door to relieve himself and that's the end of the tranquil happy family BBQ.

I started picturing people out on walks with their dogs carrying around a small plastic bag to pick up after them. Taking Clifford for a walk, you'd need a dump truck to follow along to clean up after him.

I know, it's a series of low-brow thoughts, but something I'd never thought of until the other night.

And my wife would be so proud of me. It was a rare occasion where I had a perplexing thought like this and I did NOT share it with my son. Yes, for a change, I kept the bizarre thoughts inside.

But it's been two days now and the thought hasn't escaped my mind. So I had to get it out and write about it here.

Perhaps I take children's stories just a little too seriously sometimes . . .

Monday, September 27, 2010

Top 5 Social Media Tools For Authors

Yesterday I was part of a panel discussion on the Digital Drive stage at Word on the Street moderated by Stuart Woods of Quill & Quire. The panel was called Look at Me! Look at Me! How to use Social Media to Market Your Work!  and was described as follows:

No longer can writers afford to be reclusive geniuses hiding away behind their typewriters. In the digital age, your voice needs to be as arresting as the words in the book you are trying to promote. The world of social media is a living, beathing entity where your message can be spread far and wide. Join Nina Lassam, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Julie Wilson and Anita Windisman as they give you top tips for using social media to market yourself and your work!
A quick panelest photo taken & tweeted by Anita just prior to us going onstage

The first thing that we all agreed upon were the top 5 social media tools writers can use. And although we all thought these were currently the top 5 (with a disclaimer that they are subject to change at a moment's notice), we mentioned a slew of other tools/platforms we use and also had unique perspectives on which of these five worked best in our own experiences.

1) Blogging
2) Twitter
3) Facebook
4) YouTube
5) Linked In

Of course, it's so easy to get hung up on which tools to use and how people are using them and lose sight of what the tools are for or why you're using them.

First of all, social media tools are for connecting with people. The same way in which we were all at Word on the Street to connect with people in person, the same way that doing book signings and readings and talks are ways to connect one on one with people, social media is yet another way to connect with people. Of course, sometimes it's in real time and sometimes it's a "message in a bottle" that you put out there one day and is discovered by someone days, weeks, months or years later.

Second, despite the fact our panel was called "Look at Me! Look at Me!" while you want to use these platforms to promote yourself and your work, the LAST thing you want is to be the annoying person who does nothing more than jump around saying "look at me, look at me."

Think of social media as a party where there are a bunch of people having a conversation. Thing about the blatant idiot who strides into the middle of a conversation at that party, interupts whomever is speaking to hand out his insurance business cards (especially when the conversation currently has nothing to do with insurance at the moment). If all you do in social media is cry "Look at me! Look at me!" without offering any value to the conversation or without being part of the conversation, you're being just as annoying as that guy pushing his cards on everyone. The last thing you want to be is that blantant idiot who is being a pushy sales-person.  You need to be part of the conversation, you need to be genuinely involved in the circles/conversations/areas where your topic is of interest to the people who are connecting.  Yes, it's work. Nobody said that writing wasn't work. Nobody said that using social media to promote your writing wasn't work. (Okay, somebody might have said those things, but it wasn't me)

Anita, Stuart, Julie & Nina chatting just prior to taking the stage

Another bit of advice we had is that there are so many social media tools/platforms/areas to engage in and that you can't be a part of all of them (not without losing time to do important things like actually write) - we suggested that you should experiment, test out one or two of them, see which ones you're most comfortable with, slide in and start listening.  Like a party, perhaps you slide over to a conversation taking place and listen to it, start to understand what's being said, what's going on, then, if you have something that you believe will contribute, you introduce yourself and join in the conversation.  Again, social media is just that -- a social thing, except, you're doing it online or via your mobile device rather than in person.

One of the other things we returned to was humility and making mistakes.  We're all human, and one of the great things about social media is that it's a reflection of who we are in the real world. Sure, it can be a measured reflection, where a particular persona is being portrayed, but it can be an indication of the type of person you are. And most people want to connect with real people, not with slick marketing gimmicks. Showing the fact that you're human, a real person, offers potential readers a connection to you that is unique and interesting. 

We talked about some Canadian authors who have done a great job of connecting with their audiences, such as Robert J. Sawyer who, through his blog and Facebook account has connected with and has ongoing dialogues with his fans.  We talked about how Terry Fallis went from being unable to find an agent and publisher to using podcasting to build an audience of thousands and go on to win an award and secure a publishing contract with McClelland & Stewart.  And we talked about how great it was that a long celebrated Canadian literary icon like Margaret Atwood could show her humility and playfullness so wonderfully through her Twitter account and connect with people on a personal basis.

There was only an hour to talk and answer questions about social media, and we barely scratched the surface of what's available and different strategies for connecting and promoting your work without being that annoying budinski jerk -- but it sure was fun, and I learned a lot from my fellow panelists as well from some of the folks in the audience.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pocket Books Ad 1948

While I was waiting in my Doctor's office yesterday morning, I had a fun conversation with one of the staff about old books she had recently inherited from her mother. She ducked into the back room to show me an old "reference" book from 1948 about a study on marriage and sex. It was a Pocket Books book.

Flipping through it, I saw the above ad from Pocket Books announcing the bold new format for books (loving the "kind to your pocket and pocketbook" phrase) as well as the fact that new titles would be added each month.

I also got a kick out of the note just inside the front of the book assuring customers that it was the exact same content (word for word) as the more expensive hard-cover version. (Remember, back then, the concept of a mass market paperback/pocket book was new and foreign to most people, having first come out some time around 1939 or so)

Speaking of which, I'm remembering that classic "First IT/Help Desk Call" video about a monk trying to learn how to convert from using a scroll to a bound book?  I still always laugh out loud at the "I 'turn the page?'" line.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

HNT - Word On The Stage

Wow - September blew past so quickly.

I suppose working 12 to 15 hour days for a few weeks straight will do that to a person.  I've even neglected to regularly update my blog as regularly as I normally do.

Oh well, things are going to start to slow down next week.  Of course, my fingers are crossed ever so tightly when I say this in my mind - (in all honesty, I can't say I crossed my fingers while typing this or it would come out like this:  "me nfrinewrew aew dxeossed efne so nrighjlky" and you wouldn't be able to understand what I was trying to say)

I realized that this weekend is The Word on the Street, an annual gigantic book and magazine festival held on a Sunday at the end of September across Canada in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Kitchener, Toronto and Halifax.  This year it's being held on September 26th.

I'll be attending WOTS Toronto.

This year, I'll not only be hanging out at the Horror Writers Association booth where people can buy copies of some of my work and get a cool personalized autograph, but I'll also be on the Digital Drive stage at 4:00 PM to discuss Authors using social media to market their work.

The panel is called:  Look at Me! Look at Me! - How to use social media to Market Your Work and has the following description:  No longer can writers afford to be reclusive geniuses hiding away behind their typewriters. In the digital age, your voice needs to be as arresting as the words in the book you are trying to promote.  The world of social media is a living, breathing entity where your message can be spread far and wide. 

I'll be sitting on the panel with Nina Lassam, Julie Wilson and Anita Windisman. I think it's going to be a heck of a lot of fun, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Here's a picture of me from last year at the Horror Writers Association booth, with Sephera Giron, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime and Nancy Kilpatrick, three fine ladies of Canadian horror.  Sure, they write scary stuff, but they're all such wonderful people.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

HNT - Battle Scars

It's a crazy time of year for me at work. I'm averaging 14 hour days, hand-bombing half a dozen skids per day, serving thousands of customers, answering the same 20 questions repeatedly all day, and my body feels like I've just gone ten rounds in the ring caught between with Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV.

Here's my left hand, showing five of the recently aquired battle scars.  (A couple of them, from last week, are starting to heal nicely -- these are mostly the result of skin being ripped off while opening boxes, cardboard cuts (sometimes worse than papercuts), a slash from a box cutter that hadn't been properly retracted (across my two middle fingers) and my finger getting pinned between two boxes (oops, can't see that one because it's on the face-down side of the pink)

Symptomatic of the way the rest of my body feels.

In short -- ouch . . . can't wait for the September Rush to be over and I can go back to working 10 hour days and stop racking up quite as many injuries.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering September 11, 2001

It has been nine years since the tragic events of Sept 11, 2001. Several years ago, on the anniversary of the tragic day where 2996 people lost their lives, blogger D. Challenger Roe has headed up Project 2,996 -- an exercise in bringing bloggers together to remember the victims of Sept 11, 2001.

The idea was for bloggers to take the time to get to know one of the victims and to celebrate and remember their lives rather than focus on the tragedy that befell them that fateful day.

I took the time to find information and remember three different individuals over the years. Each year, I go back and re-read the posts about them, think about the lives they lived and the differences they made before their lives were cut short.

The posts about the people are listed below.

Raymond Meisenheimer - Remembering Raymond Meisenheimer  (2006)

Deora Francis Bodley - Remembering The Lives of Two Heros (2007)

David Reed Gamboa Bradhorst & his fathers Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa - Project 2996 - Sept 11, 2008 (2008)

A return/overview to the previous posts -Project 2,996 (2009)

Despite the fact that loved ones are lost, they continue to live on in our memories and hearts.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

HNT - Hurricane Earl

We have been bunny-sitting a rabbit named Earl for the past year or so every once in a while when Earl's owner is away on business trips.

When we found out that Earl's owner wanted to find a good home for him, we discovered we had grown attached to him.  So we "test kept" him for a while several weeks back. Alexander was delighted with the idea, and Earl has since become part of the family.

At first we had reservations about him because he seemed nowhere as energetic and outgoing as our previous rabbit, Mister Bunny (who we had for 11 years). But then we discovered it was that Earl had an aversion to the kitchen tile.  Once we placed a few carpets and towels on the floor, linking him to the carpeted areas of the home, we discovered he loves to tear around the place, in a whirlwind of activity.

Interesting that Hurricane Earl is in the news, because, when we let Earl out to romp around the basement in the evening, that's exactly what he's like -- he tears all over the place, jumping over and around Alexander's toys, hopping on the couch, squeezing into the tiniest crevace and getting into absolutely everything.

And, of course, in good-old rabbit fashion, we catch him nibbling on things and destroying them -- like the phone and power cords in the basement.

Thus, Hurricane Earl the dwarf rabbit has found a new home.

In celebration of Earl coming to stay with us, I'm posting a flashback picture of Mister Bunny and I having a little chat.  This was originally posted in episode 2 of my "Spud Wars HNT Saga back on Jan 26, 2006)  I'm sure this blog will include pitures of Earl and I having similar heart-to-hearts.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Vote For Angus McLintock

I've always found it fascinating when authors try to start campaigns asking people to all go buy a single title on a particular day on Amazon in an effort to push the sales of the title to the top of Amazon's list of bestselling titles.  It's an interesting and effective strategy.

But the thing that bothers me is the focus on a single retailer.

I prefer spreading the love around. I prefer celebrating choice.

That's why I'm suggesting that Canadian book lovers might consider doing a similar thing with a Canadian-authored/Canadian published title, but spreading the love around among Canadian bricks and mortar and online retailers alike. The request is more "open" in nature and encourages buying a title at whatever your favourite place to buy books happens to be, whether it's the local independent bookstore in your community, a nearby chain store or one of the two well known ".ca" retailers.

In Canada, we have a great resource in BookNet Canada that is here to support the overall Canadian book industry (publishers and booksellers alike).  BookNet Canada collects SalesData from over 1000 Canadian retail outlets - that data is used in part to generate the Globe and Mail Bestseller list.

And because BookNet Canada gathers sales data from so many different booksellers into a central system, there's no need to focus on buying the book all on the same day. Instead, BNC helps detect sales patterns and specific increases in a title's popularity across the board. Yes, sales within a specific period like a single week or a set of weeks does make a difference. But again, it's based on sales spread across a larger set of retailers.

I'd love to see booksellers and book lovers take a book and try to force it up the BNC sales charts.

And here's the perfect book to do it with:

The High Road by Terry Fallis

And here's why I'm picking on this particular book today:

Reason OneMcClelland and Stewart allowed Fallis to start giving this book away completely for free via a weekly podcast, which started 15 weeks ago (Chapter 15 was just released this past weekend).  M&S has a long history in Canada and yet still shows the courage of a new startup in their allowing an author to experiment with new media. I love seeing a traditional publisher be so open minded and would love to show my support of such activites from a publisher.

Reason Two:  Terry Fallis is a talented and undercelebrated author.  He is among a small group of progressive authors boldly using new media to bring literature into the hands of readers in new and exciting ways. And again, by giving it away for free, he's demonstrating his faith and belief in the power that piracy isn't publishing's greatest enemy, obscurity is. That alone is reason to celebrate and support this effort.

The Best Reason of all:  I loved The Best Laid Plans (the first novel by Fallis that he released via free podcast, then self published, before winning the Stephen Leacock Medal and securing an agent and publisher) even though, before beginning to read it, I had absolutely no interest in Canadian politics. TBLP was a refreshing and hilarious look at a reluctant no-hope candidate falling into the role of Member of Parliament and finding that his personal integrity actually made a positive difference.  The follow-up novel, The High Road, is a continuation of the story of Angus McLintock, the crusty old professor who refuses to play the political game and instead injects honesty and truth into his every decision, and Daniel Addison, his political aide, who, despite wanting to leave the political world, finds new hope in his candidate's refreshing approach.

Terry Fallis is a talented writer whose prose and style reminds me of both John Irving and Robertson Davies. The situations he creates are laugh-out-loud funny one moment and startlingly touching the next. The Best Laid Plans was one of the best books I read in 2008, and even though I'm only a little more than half-way through The High Road, I can easily see that it has already made my "best of 2010" list.

This is a book that I can confidently and easily recommend to book lovers.  And the best part of it is that I don't need to hard-sell it to anyone. I can tell them to check out the podcast and listen to the book for free, confident that once they start listening to it they'll be hooked and will want to listen to the whole thing, and if they're a hard copy book lover, they'll end up buying it, too.  The novels lend themselves wonderfully to the audio format, and Fallis is a strong narrator, but I've found reading the prose just as enjoyable. (In fact, now that I have my hands on a hard copy of The High Road, I'm torn between waiting to listen to Fallis reading it and just tearing through the book to find out what happens next.

But wouldn't it be really cool if book lovers and booksellers across Canada got behind The High Road and McClelland and Stewart and purchased enough copies from their favourite bricks and mortar or online bookseller to rock it to the national bestseller lists? Wouldn't it be great if M&S had to quickly go into a second printing because the demand was so phenomenally high for this book that they allowed the author to give away for free?

Wouldn't it be awesome if a grassroots campaign to show support of a Canadian authored book published in Canada by a Canadian publisher could grow legs simply because people decided to support it in this open mannered way (ie, by not focusing on a single retailer, but spreading the love and purchases across the whole industry)?

Here's a link to some upcoming appearances by Fallis in the next month or so, starting with the book launch in Toronto on Wed September 8th. Terry is as entertaining to see in person as his books are hilarious.  Seeing him in person is the perfect free entertainment that just might inspire you to check out his work, or to tell a friend -- or better yet, do both.

I mean, seeing the sales of The High Road skyrocket would be almost as satisfying as being able to vote for Angus McLintock.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

HNT - Amateur Photographer Exposed

Canadian Booksellers Association is promoting Independents Matter, a national grassroots campaign with a community focus to encourage booksellers to celebrate their independence and promote the benefits of shopping locally. The idea is to remind people that shopping locally offers the best value, the best retail experience and the best support for vibrant, vital and prosperous communities

Leading up to this year's annual "Independents' Day" (a celebration where participating stores are encouraged to promote local authors and their community-minded spirit) which is being held October 16th, 2010, booksellers are collecting quotes and photographs in celebration of the unique connection that booksellers can make by helping to bring authors and readers together.

Lawrence Hill recently provided a wonderful quote for us to use as part of this celebration. And since he lives so very close to Bryan Prince's bookstore in Hamilton, and Bryan has been one of the many booksellers who has been hand-selling and talking about Larry's books long before he started winning awards and hitting various bestseller lists, I thought it'd be great to include a picture of the two of them in front of Bryan's store.

I took the photo at a quickly arranged meeting (all three of us are really busy - Bryan and I are neck deep in bookish things, and Larry is, of course, on deadline for his next novel) and emailed it off to our CBA Communications Manager so it could be included in a recent email to CBA members.

"Looking for a title? An author? Want smart, informed and engaged help, and perhaps a recommendation of another book that you hadn't considered? Visit your local independent bookstore. Writers can't live without them!" 
- Lawrence Hill

Of course, I was so focused on getting the two gentleman framed in a photo with the sign for Bryan's store clear and visible, that I failed to notice my reflection had been captured in the window of the door to the bookshop.  (And since I only previewed the picture on my iPhone screen, I didn't notice this little detail before submitting the photo)

Whoops.  Amateur photographer exposed.

Oh well, at least it goes to show that this truly is a grassroots campaign - that, even though we're soliciting feedback, input and support from professional authors and booksellers, most of the activities are driven by volunteers activities and amateur photographers like me.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

It's A Blog Post About A Book

There's a new kid's book out by Lane Smith called It's A Book.

The concept and story are pretty simple: A tech-savy donkey tries to understand what a book-loving ape is doing when he catches him reading a book. It's a simple conversation between the two of them as the donkey attempts to understand what a book does and doesn't do.  The execution, timing and pace of the conversation between the two is absolutely brilliant.

Donkey: "What do you have there?"
Ape: "It's a book."
Donkey: "Do you scroll down?"
Ape: "Nope. Turn the page. It's a book."

. . . and so on, and so on . . .
This is definitely one of those books that will be cherished by book-nerds everywhere and is destined to become an instant classic.

Oh yeah, and kids might like it, too. I can't wait to read it to my son.

Check out the hilarious trailer for the book . . .