Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This Moose Be My Real Reason

My Dad's birthday was yesterday. Had he still been alive, he would have been 73. He was a passionate fisherman and absolutely loved and adored the out-doors. Some of the best times I've had outdoors have been with him, and there isn't a single time that I enjoy the beauty and wonder of nature and the woods without reflecting on what this man meant to me.

I've long been a fan of Moosehead beer. I love the that they are Canada's oldest independent brewery and when I buy their lager I'm not only enjoying a great tasting beer, but I'm also supporting a business that has been owned by the same family for six generations.

But yesterday, while I was drinking a Moosehead beer in honour of Dad and reflecting on all the great times , I finally put two and two together.  You see, in our family we always associated my Dad's birthday, and June 28th, with the true weekend that rang in the summer.  For us it was never Victoria Day (we lived in Northern Ontario, after all, Victoria Day was typically still too cold to consider it "summer") -- on the weekend closest to my Dad's birthday, we usually got a "beer ball" of Northern Draft and get the whole family together and have a grand BBQ at my parent's place in Levack.  Beer and June 28th and Dad, meant good times and fun.

So I started to think that perhaps my powerful fondness of the Moosehead brand is my way of staying connected to Dad.

When I reflect back on it, I believe I started drinking Moosehead beer merely because the logo of the moose reminded me of my Dad. He was a hunter/fisher, and so moose hunting season was a big thing in our house. The wonderful majesty of the moose has always reminded me of my father.  When I look back at the recent "The Outer-self" ad campaign (a little known part of the human psyche that yearns for the outside world) from Moosehead, it makes more sense to me.  Most standard non-craft brewed beers, after all, taste relatively the same -- there's very little actual variety in the more popular Canadian beers on the market.  What becomes important to the consumer are your internal associations with the label, with the brand. What it SAYS about you as a consumer of that brand.

And when I look back to the last time I spent some real "quality time" with my Dad, it was when my cousin Rodney and my Dad and I were deer hunting on Manintoulin Island, our beer of choce was Moosehead (okay, the two of them were hunting, I was there to work on a novel).

One rainy afternoon, while my cousin was out scouting the area, my Dad and I sat on the deck of the cabin and bonded by having a real heart to heart talk. For the first time in many years, I intimately shared a scene from my novel-in-progress MORNING SON, a novel that explored the father-son relationship and was, in many ways, inspired by my Dad.

I read the scene to him, which was a motorcycle accident that forever changed the life of the father in the novel, and which was based, heavily, on a very similar accident my father had been in. I'd written the scene from court transcripts about the accident and wanted to check with my Dad to see if I got the feeling right, if the scene came through as "real."

I'll never forget how he sat there with tears in his eyes after I finished reading the scene and nodded his head, letting me know I got it right. Then he hugged me and told me how proud he was of me.

And then we sat on the deck and chatted more, waiting for my cousin to come back, and drank a few more Moosehead.

This must be my real reason. Or, to put it in beer-speak, this MOOSE be a very strong underlying reason why I'm so passionate about Moosehead. I just never thought about it before.

Sure, I'm proud to drink a lager from a six generation family that is Canada's largest and oldest independent brewery. But there's an underlying connection to my Dad every time I drink a Moosehead.

Funny how the association has always been there, but I never really, properly drew the connection until recently.

Monday, June 28, 2010

You're David Sawooki!

The other day when I arrived home from work, Alexander greeted me downstairs with his arms crossed tightly across his chest and a stern look on his face.

"Dad," he said. "You left the closet light on upstairs this morning. It was on ALL day."

I thought back to that morning's rush to get him out the door and on time to school before heading off to work. Yes, it was very likely I'd forgotten to turn off the light to the walk-in closet in our bedroom.

"Sorry," I said. "I was in a hurry."

He shook his head, his arms still firmly folded and said. "That's no excuse. It's a big waste of electricity!"

"Okay, okay," I said, throwing my hands up in the air. "Cut me some slack, David Suzuki."

I was, of course, refering to the series of cute and funny Powerwise.ca commercials featuring Canada's leading science broadcaster and envrionmental activist, David Suzuki. I love the ones in which an average citizen is shocked to find David Suzuki in their home making it more energy efficient (like my favourite one in which Bob learns that "using less electricity means more beer!")

I've long admired David Suzuki, even had the pleasure of meeting him when he did a book signing at my bookstore many years back, and absolutely adore the humour in these ads -- it shows that you can be serious about an issue but use humour to get your message across.

Alexander, of course, didn't know what I was refering to and thought I was insulting him, so he responded quite quickly with.  "No, YOU'RE David Sawooki!"

If we were all a little more like David Sawooki and become a little more Powerwise, we'll save ourselves some decent money and help the clean and healthy environment be around for future generations to make cute statements like that.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Earthquake Devastation In Toronto

On Wednesday a 5.0 magnitude earthquake rocked a broad region of southern Ontario and surrounding northern US states. Many of my friends and colleages in Hamilton felt it. Francine, who works perhaps 1.5 KM away from where I work said her entire office shook, computers and desks rattling. Her office is on the 2nd floor. My office is in the basement and I think the building I'm in was carved out of petroglyphic rock or something, because I didn't even notice a thing.  Though others in the office across the way said they did experience a strange subtle shaking sensation that they weren't sure about.  Most thought at first that it was construction going on in our building. (Or perhaps the fact i didn't notice is a sign that I was buried under with so much work that I fail to notice certain things -- er, that's NOT a good sign)

But in any case, I first saw this photo of the earthquake devastation in Toronto via Twitter, which is where I was following most updates about the earthquake. Twitter was an interesting combination of updates and info from friends all over, combined with jokes and humourous notes about it, such as the earthquake causing a tsunami in the G20 fake lake or people speculating that it wasn't an earthquake, it was Quebec finally separating. Then a friend forwarded the same earthquake devastation picture via email.

The picture, which may be disturbing to some, shows the devastation to just one neighbourhood yard in Toronto.

This joke picture which is still making the rounds reminded me of several years ago when a massive snowstorm hit Toronto and the army was called in.  That, of course leads to the follow-up punch line where someone speculates that perhaps THAT is why there are thousands of police officers currently in riot gear in Toronto. They aren't there for the G8 and G20 summits -- they were called in to clean up the massive devastation which is obviously going to take weeks to recover from.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

HNT - Daddy's Little Helper

This past Sunday was Father's Day.

Now don't you just love uselessly obvious statements like that? NEWSFLASH: the third Sunday in June was Father's Day this year. Just like it has been for about 100 years in the majority of countries in the world that celebrate it. Yeesh, Mark, tell me something I don't know already.

Okay, I'll stop making fun of myself in a self-editorializing way.

What I meant to say was this past Sunday I got some wonderful gifts from my son (including this hand-designed shirt he made for me at the daycare where he spends some of his non-kindergarten days). Making me go back to bed (I'm usually the first one in our home to rise in the mornings), he was delighted to rush into the bedroom with a handful of all of the great gifts he made for me.  The best gift of all, of course, was the look of sheer joy in his eyes when I was opening my presents.

I commented on this back on Sunday, but I'll say it again, because it bears repeating. For me, every day IS Father's Day. Not a single day goes by in which I don't feel loved, celebrated and appreciated as a husband and a father.

And the more time that passes, the more I realize that the gift of fatherhood is one I'll never be able to properly repay. I look back at all the things that my Dad was to me, all the things he gave me, all the love he consistently showered upon me, all the things he taught me, and I feel spoiled and privledged. Then, in a feeble attempt to give all those same things to my son, perhaps to try to pay those things forward, I realize that nomatter how much I attempt to give to my son the way my dad gave to me, I'm never quite able to give as much as I receive.

Each day, my son gives me an infinite amount of love, wonder and joy. Each day, I'm enriched by his spirit, kindness, generosity and creativity. Each day, I'm further in debt realizing I'll never be able to give him as much as he gives me.

Each day I count my blessings as one very lucky man.

My shirt says "Daddy's Little Helper" as if to imply that because he follows me around and helps me get chores around the house and yard done (which he HAS done since before he could even walk). But he's really "Daddy's Little Helper" because he helps me feel special, helps me feel loved and helps me become a better person in more ways than he'll ever know or I'll ever be able to properly express.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How DO You Find New Stuff To Read?

Laura Miller has an interesting and intriguing post in a column from Salon.com about The Democratization of Slush. With a sub-line of "how do you find something good to read in a brave new self-published world?" she explores the idea from the POV of someone whose job it is to sort through the slush and decide what gets published.

She cheekily points out the "crowds lining up to dance on the grave of traditional book publishing" then looks at the multitude of options available for authors to take the empowering non-traditional route.

It's a great article, and one worth reading in full (rather than my sloppy interpretation of it).

But the key question in my mind is: How to sort through the 3/4 of a million self-published titles? Miller talks about readers not having an issue with the choices available, but with needing to find ways to determine which of the already available titles they'll want to read.  Huge challenge there -- and, in my opinion that is where traditional publishing/supply chain roles need to really step in and offer value.

During the Book Summit 2010 last week, Robert J. Sawyer spoke about the publisher adding their logo to the spine of a book and that logo can be intrepreted as an indicator that somebody other than the author thinks that book is good and worth looking at.  In a recent CBC interview, Sarah MacLauchlan of House of Anansi echoes the same idea.

The imprint, or brand of the publishing company, then, becomes one of those filtering factors, one of those curatorial steps that help connect an author's work to readers. An established publishing entity recognizes a book, affixes their imprint to it and says: "Hey, we stand behind this author, we stand behind this book - we have invested in this book." (And yes, I'm aware that despite this investment by publishers most authors who aren't earning six figure advances typically do the majority of their own publicity and promotions)

At least that's what it says to me. Because with traditional publishing, there really is a significant investment of time, resources and money to get that book to print. And a good portion of that money is spent sifting through the slush, working on polishing diamonds in the rough into gems that sparkle.

I'm wondering if, somewhere in the evolution of publishing, an established publishing house might attempt to create an imprint specifically for self-published books that defied the odds.  IE, it began self-published and was discovered by the publisher that way.  Imagine a set of editors using the self-published books themselves as a slush pile. Whereby, rather than pulling a manuscript from the stacks upon stacks of submissions, hoping to find one gem amid 10,000, the imprint focuses on the books that rise from the chaff of the newly formed landscape and new writers and great books are discovered in that manner.

It's not a new idea -- but self-published authors breaking into traditional publishing tends to happen right now due to chance and circumstance rather than by design. (And no, I'm not ignoring the incredible work and effort it takes for the self-published author to get their name and  book out there -- but, regardless of endless hours and dollars spent the odds are still so huge that actually breaking out like this is more the exception than the norm.

I suppose the only real difference between that and traditional publishing would be that perhaps in most cases a few dozen people would have read the book before it was "discovered" by this imprint. But on the plus side, rather than taking a huge chance there's already at least one mini-market or at least some basic "market" testing that has already happened to give the publisher an idea of how the book is embraced.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review - Switch by Grant McKenzie

How far will one man go to save the people he loves most?

It's an intriguing question, and one that so beautifully drives Switch by Grant McKenzie, a Scotish-born writer currently living in British Columbia.

Sam White is a struggling actor just trying to move beyond small roles like embarassing television commercials while he works as a security guard at a shopping mall.  One day he returns home from work to find his house blown up and two body bags being removed. Entirely devastated in assuming he has lost his wife and daughter, he receives an anonymous call from a kidnapper saying they are indeed alive and will be kept alive so long as Sam completes a series of challenging and dangerous tasks.

Soon after, Sam meets Zack Packer, a businessman who is also a victim of the kidnapper with a family member in jeapardy. The two, bonded by the common goal of saving those they love the most are wonderfully brought together in circumstances where they're not entirely sure they can trust one another.

And as they race through tasks and demands that become more violent and challenge their morals, they begin to slowly uncover a complex plot that uncovers links to their intertwined past.

McKenzie has written a novel that races from beginning to end in a phenomenally quick manner. The writing is tight and doled out in extremely short chapter chunks. This double-impact delivery of the story moves things along at a break-neck speed and creates a thriller that is hard to put down.

Switch is published in Canada by Penguin. I have to admit that the cover itself is perhaps the worst thing about this novel which I suspect won't help its chances on bookstore shelves. (Looking at the cover for the UK release, which isn't that much better but contains a nicer sort of darkness to it and a gritty "alone in a big city at night" sort of feel, I'm curious about what led to that particular cover design which seems to be drawn in the spirit of a security camera catching White in action) But I was drawn to the ARC by the premise of the story and compelled to keep reading due to McKenzie's tight prose. As a bookseller, I will certainly be putting this book into the hands of thriller-lovers, telling them to ignore the cover and just start reading the first few line of the novel for a great hook into a story that starts with a hard hit and never stops hitting hard.

"Rick Ironwood staggered back from the blow, his trick knee giving out with a pop as his feet twisted sideways in a puddle of grimy engine oil."

With a "regular guy caught in a terrible nightmare" scenario, reminiscent of some of the recent novels of Linwood Barclay, McKenzie has crafted a brilliantly paced thriller certain to be enjoyed and quickly consumed by thriller lovers everywhere.

Title: Switch
Author:  Grant McKenzie
Canadian Publisher: Penguin Books Canada
Canadian Release: August 3, 2010
Canadian ISBN: 978-0-14-3173359
Canadian Price: $25.00  (Trade Paperback)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Summit 2010 - Closing Panel Notes

As I mentioned in a my Top 10 Takeaways post from a couple of days ago, the single day Book Summit 2010 was a satisfying and engaging day chok-full of some great thoughts, ideas and challenges.

One of the highlights for the day for me came from the panel discussion that took place at the very end. To the left is a blurry picture I took of the panel (left to right are Mark, Kate, Sandra, Anne and Dominique) - yes, my photo is continued evidence it's a good idea I didn't pursue a career as a photographer.

Moderated by Mark Medley of the National Post the discussion featured Anne McDermid (Literary Agent), Sandra Kasturi (ChiZine Publications), Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks) and Kate Pullinger (Author).  It was one of those great panel discussions populated by some amazing minds.  It could have gone on for several hours and I would have sat there completed riveted (with perhaps the except that my butt was a little uncomfortable in the chairs by the actual end of it)  But, physical discomfort aside, my mind was certainly stimulated.

Here are several statements from the panelists that struck me as important and which I jotted down. There were certainly a lot of other great things said but I'm not as adept at note-taking as I'd like to be, so we'll have to just live with what I was able to make note of. And I was going to add commentary to them but figured I could simply leave them as they are and let readers apply their own commentary.

"Storytelling is never going to go away." 
- Kate Pullinger talking about the printed book being a single touch-point in a long history of storytelling, one in which cave paintings (the original Powerpoint presentations) were the beginning of that history.

"Suck it up! Be there, don't be rude, sign some books and shut up. Yes, it's very much like a family."
- Sandra Kasturi talking about addressing the shy author who doesn't want to get "out there" and meet readers. The comment was made doubly hilarious considering that just minutes earlier she was talking about how every single author at ChiZine Publications commented how being published with them felt very much like being part of a family. Kasturi is frank and funny at showing both sides of what "family" can offer.

"If we limit our vision to ebooks we limit our overall impact to the culture."
Dominique Raccah talking about publishers learning to embrace all possible manners of producing content and connecting with readers.

"There is more merging between author, agent and publisher."
- Anne McDermid talking about the need for the three parties who have historically seen themselves as competing or having conflicting goals needing to come together and work better towards common goals.

"We publish authors, not books."
- Dominique Raccah

"It seems complete madness that you would put text on a computer screen and not take advantage of all the various options made available by the computer."
- Kate Pullinger, talking about how technology can help readers interact with stories rather than just dole out tales in a one-way manner.

"A writer has to be a salesperson, a performer, a blogger, etc."
- Sandra Kasturi (Okay, I'll be honest, Sandra didn't say "etc," I just couldn't keep up with the long list of cool things she mentioned so wrote down "etc" as the lazy way out. But you get the point.)

"I want a device that's free so I can spend the money on the content."
-Kate Pullinger talking about e-reading devices. This statement was following by a round of applause.

As mentioned I was quite pleased with the people on the panel and the conversation taking place, but have to admit that it still felt like there was a small thing lacking.

The panel included journalist, author, literary agent and publisher. But no bookseller. At first I thought it was a bit odd, but then felt it could have added to some of the POV's being presented onstage. Particularly when part of the conversation turned to embrace the connection between writer and reader with a suggestion that the model in which bookstores are relevant falls apart. As a bookseller, I would have loved an opportunity to be part of that discussion, despite the potential discomfort inherent in that sentiment -- especially since one of the core things a bookseller has always done (and can continue to do even in a digital world) is help bring those two together. In reality, every single player in this industry needs to feel a bit of discomfort, needs to seriously question their current role and look at how evolution might need to be embraced in order to continue to be relevant. And yes, that includes booksellers like me. We need to embrace the question of relevance. To that end, wouldn't it have been interesting to have invited a reader into the panel -- someone who loves reading but doesn't have a vested interest in any part of our industry, but attends various sessions and then is up there on stage at the end of the day to offer their views?

Erin Balser of booksin140 put up a post about the Book Summit on the weekend and also suggested some intriguing things such as the possibility of making some sessions more hands-on and more interactive as well as the suggestion of a stronger focus on Canada.  Great suggestions to make a fantastic day even better.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Admission

It's funny.  All morning my wife and son keep suggesting I sit back and take it easy, that it's Father's Day and I should relax and let them do things for me.

The actual truth, though, is that for me, every single day IS Father's Day. Not a day goes by that I don't feel loved, appreciated and practically waited on hand and foot. I consistently get more than I could ever possibly give as a husband and a father. The two most important people in my life already make me feel like a King all the time. They are constantly taking care of me, looking out for me and making me feel special every moment of every day.

So every day is Father's Day. I'm one really lucky S.O.B.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Top 10 Takeaways From Book Summit 2010

I attended Book Summit 2010 yesterday.  This year's theme was "HOT NEW MODELS: The Amazing Transformation of Business and Culture in the World of Books."  Presented by Humber College and the Book and Periodical Council in association with Authors at Harbourfront Centre, the full day conference is a great gathering of people from across the book and publishing industry.

The day started off with a keynote address from The New York Times technology columnist David Pogue whose talk "Reading: The Next Chapter" was interesting, quirky, entertaining and enlightening.  He ended off a great summation of the intersection of technology and culture with a couple of spoof piano songs.  One of which you can watch here (this video is from the TED conference and has a much better sound quality than the recording I made yesterday - oops, I didn't get anyone's permission to record it yesterday, let's hope the Feds aren't going to storm into my house now)

The day split into parallel workshops and information sessions, of which I attended Switched-On Learning presented by David Jolliffe from Pearson Education and Elements of the Bookstore of the Future presented by Chris Morrow of Northshire Bookstore.  Then it was time for lunch and the afternoon session where I took in Robert J. Sawyer's talk on The 21st Century Author.

It all ended with a phenomenal panel discussion summarizing the day led by Mark Medley of the National Post and featuring Anne McDermid (Literary Agent), Sandra Kasturi (ChiZine Publications), Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks) and Kate Pullinger (Author).  It was one of those panel discussions that could have gone on for several more hours and was the perfect day to wrap up a solid day.

The biggest frustration (which is a fantastic problem for an event like this to have) is that the breakout sessions were so good that you really wanted to attend more than one -- I need to further develop a strategy where I go in with some colleagues where we plan on attending different parallel sessions so we can compare notes afterwards and still get some of the benefit of the sessions we missed.

I thought it might be fun to list, from the notes I took yesterday, 10 of the quotes or points I got a lot out of.  And yes, I titled this the Top 10 Takeaways, but will openly admit that was just a gimmick because it sounds better than "Mark's Goofy Thoughts About A Great Day With Book Nerds."

1) "Things Just Add On" - David Pogue
The concept Pogue is talking about here are the constant predictions made by people that something is going to be the killer of something else, which are usually always wrong. Example, "the iPad is going to be the Kindle Killer" or "the television is going to kill the radio" or "the X is going to be the Y killer" (I'm still predicting that books are doomed due to the advent of vinyl records) - But seriously, Pogue says that things in culture tend not to fully replace things, but rather add on to them. Things splinter. Sure, we lose the common culture effect where everyone gathers around the water cooler and discussions last night's episode of "I Love Lucy" but everyone is better served and we can dip in and out at will.

2) "The only people being inconvenienced by copy protection measures are the honest people." - David Pogue
So true. Those who are going to hack and steal and going to hack and steal regardless of any sort of DRM measures put into place. The main people who suffer when you lock down digital content so tight are the honest people who are willing to pay for content. I could argue on for days about this (hey wait, I HAVE and will continue to do so)  Pogue's hilarous music medly covers the music industry's RIAA suing downloaders here -- funny spoof song but interesting and though-provoking.

3) "Speed + Ego - Privacy = Twitter" - David Pogue
Okay, a short, cute and funny statement. But I loved it.

4) "The ebooks we buy and read today are not likely to be available to our descendants" - David Pogue
Interesting thought. And yes I might sound like a luddite for saying something like this or look like that dinosaur bookseller who fails to accept ebooks and wants to cling to the traditional printed book, but it's a simple matter I have already seen.  Books and comics I bought when I was 10 are still available to be placed into my son's hands 30 years later. But games and software and stories I wrote and save to a 5.25 inch floppy disk on my VIC-20 and Commodore 64 are no longer something I can pass on. So what is to say that the digital files I create or purchase today, which haven't really been around for more than a decade in many cases, will still be here in another 10 or 20 years. At least the books on the shelves across from the desk where I type this will still be accessible in that same time frame.

5) We are seeing just the beginning of interactive assessments/mobile for learning technologies - David Jollifee (Pearson)
Right now my campus bookstore sells a lot of the i (classroom response system) units that are being used at McMaster University. Unlike many other required course materials, these are of a relatively low cost and have a high return on investment. A student can buy one in first year and use it for all their classes for the next four years. Great investment, and a great interactive way to aid the academic environment.  But we're just seeing the tip of that, and this whole area intrigues me greatly.

6) "Right now we're losing a lot of sales because we can't give the customer what they want when they want it." - Chris Morrow (Northshire Bookstore)
Morrow was talking about having an Espresso Book Machine in his store in Vermont. Therein lies merely one key to the bookstore of the future. It's one of the reasons why my campus bookstore invested in an Espresso Book Machine and one of the things that is kept close to my heart every single day as a bookseller. The key, in my mind, to the survival of any bookseller is how to position your offering in such a way that you CAN get the customer what they want when they want it, whether it's a physical book or one of various different digitally available book or book-like products. I have said tons about this and will continue to say a lot about this going forward, so I'll just stop here with that thought.

7) "It's time for real partnerships." - Chris Morrow (Northshire Bookstore)
Morrow was talking about the partnerships between publishers and booksellers and I couldn't agree more. Too often in the past 20 years of my experience as a bookseller there have been too many times in which disagreements or differing points of view have gotten in the way of creating a supply chain that actually does more for the customer/consumer. It will only get better once we're able to determine the common grounds by which (as suggested in point 6 above) we're able to work together to get the customer that critically important thing. One thing clear in my mind is that finding those common grounds are going to be hard and going to involve painful discussions and frustrating changes as we evolve, but, hey, it's all part of Darwin's grand theory. I was delighted to hear the same underlying sentiment from the afternoon panelists and think it was Anne McDermid who suggested there be "more merging between the author, agent and publisher" who, historically might have seen one another as adversaries in the past.

8) "Right now you have all these books sitting in warehouses that should be in front of customer's eyes in bookstores." - Chris Morrow (Northshire Books)
How. True.  Nuff said? Okay, I'll say a tiny bit about that. I was delighted to enter into a discussion with a smaller Canadian publisher at the end of the day regarding trying out the "Consignment Model" that Morrow was talking about in which, just at the beginning of the experience, he and the publisher partner have seen a 22% increase in sales on that particular publisher's titles by testing a consignment model rather than books continuing to be used as cash flow management systems. I'm rather intrigued by this concept and am always looking for solutions in which the customer, bookstore, publisher and author can win.

9) "If we had crowdsourced BAMBI, Bambi's mother would never had died." - Robert J. Sawyer
Sawyer talked about the concept of crowdsourcing for various things such as Bain allowing a particular group of core fans to help them vet their slush pile. He recognized the huge value in that, but also was cautious about the effect on the creative work, that the original novel writer as well as the adapting movie producer both had to make a difficult decision that likely wouldn't have passed a commitee but made for a VERY memorable moment in animated movie history. He also addressed a question from the audience about "product placement" which is commonplace in movies and television but hasn't made it's way into literary works. Sawyer talked about using brand names in his novels for one of two reasons -- either because it was a brand he personally respected or loved, or it was a brand he knew would be recognized. He talked about the limitations to creative freedom when you allow advertising to control the story. (One example he used was for FlashForward, the TV show based on his novel -- he speculative that if one of the sponsors was a car company, would that mean that the "bad guys" in the story couldn't ever turn out to be players from the "big oil" companies?) Sawyer raised a really good point regarding creative freedoms that I hadn't ever really thought much of before.

10) "Some of the greatest joy in my life comes from interfacing with readers from all over the world." Robert J. Sawyer
Sawyer was talking about pleasures and joys from being involved in social media, hosting a web site with fantastic content, participating in Twitter, Facebook and other social media as an author.  (Even during the conference, he dipped in and out of various social media to interact with fans and friends and comment on things, showing the agility required to multi-task in such a dynamic manner) He did caution about how overwhelming spending time in these social media areas could be which take away from what the author originally signed up to do, which was to write. But he talked about all these efforts (including author tours and talks and all the various in person activities he engages in) and said that if you get even a 1% response to all these activities you might just get somewhere -- which is a clear recognition that there is a tremendous amount of effort required to get a very tiny amount of payoff.

So many other great things were said, two of which I'm going to break off and blog about separately (because this blog post has likely gone on way too long already.

But two things I'm going to address in future posts are the statement Robert J. Sawyer made in which he wasn't sure if the profession of being a full-time writer has another decade in it -- that definitely warrants a longer explanation and detailed look (from my own POV as a no-name author as well as a bookseller)  I also want to list out the various great discussion points made in the final afternoon panel featuring Mark Medley, Anne McDermid, Sandra Kasturi, Dominique Raccah and Kate Pullinger.  An "action-packed" discussion, that definitely warrants it's own post.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

HNT - Planet Snoopy

On Tuesday I took a vacation day.  I had originally planned to take both Monday and Tuesday off and have a four day weekend, but had to switch my plans around due to some renovations taking place at the store.

Despite the change in plans, I actually quite love taking a single day off in the middle of the week.  Francine, Alexander and I spent the day at Canada's Wonderland and had an absolute blast.

Here's a picture Alexander took of me posing with Snoopy.

I love the fact that it's off centre, cutting off part of Snoopy's head and that you can see my son's thumb in the shot. It perfectly outlines the fact that it doesn't matter if things don't work out as originally planned -- you can still have a load of fun anyway.

A good life lesson.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Noodling More On Evolution Of Publishing

Yesterday's blog post in which I tried to figure out how all the value propositions in the existing supply chain for publishing and books might evolve and adapt into new ones inspired some great comments.  No, the comments don't appear below the original source for this blog, but rather in the comments of the feed for this blog being imported into a note on Facebook.

Yes, the beauty of the complex nature of this original source material I publish to the web and which gets fed through various RSS type feeds into different locations and consumed by different people can lead to dynamically different discussions and conversation chains in each of the comment areas.

Which is part of what Sean Cranbury from Books on the Radio was getting at in his insightful commentary and further to discussions I've listened to Hugh McGuire have on the Media Hacks podcast (which I get as part of the subscription to the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast from Mitch Joel) about the nature of what a book is and can be when it moves to the web.

In his comments, Sean beautifully calls to mind the concept of collaboration where the original linear logic of the supply chain is blended and sifted through -- where certain pieces that are valued are kept and others that have no value (particularly in specific regions or to certain customers), are tossed away.

Image from Bookriff.com

He mentions customized mixups and mashups of content that might very-well vary from the original work but are still based on the same. And we're already beginning to see that in places such as BookRiff or SymText and many other places where content creators/publishers can place their work online and consumers can pop in, customize the content to suit their needs and select the way in which they want to consume it.

I've long admired the Flatworld Knowledge textbook model -- the content is in place and there are mulitple ways to mix and consume it, choice being a huge value add. Sometimes it's a digital online entity, sometimes it's mixed media, sometimes it's a print product. Sometimes it's all of them or a unique mixture.

Sean suggested some interesting points regarding differentiations based on geography and population bases which I thought were intriguing.  Perhaps some areas can continue to rely more on physical and traditional distribution models due to large population bases and proximity factors, while others that are not as centralized or not as densely populated can take advantage of more efficient digital distributions. I can see a world in which all options are available, and the ones more advantageous to the creator/curator/consumer are the ones that grow in some areas and shrink in others.

I also received commentary on the Facebook comment channel from a friend from high school who was butting up against the walls of marketing and getting word about her novel out there when her book was first printed with a really small publisher then she moved it on into a self-published effort.  It gave me more thoughts on the value that publishers add and perhaps how authors and publishers and even booksellers could work together towards helping bring the content to the appropriate readers. The key being getting it to the appropriate readers, not to a mass audience.  As I fondly recall Robert J. Sawyer saying in an interview several years back, you don't want to thrust your novel into the hands of every single reader, just the readers who are most likely to enjoy the type of novel you've written. If you push your science fiction novel into the hands of someone who doesn't like reading science fiction you're doing the reader and the author a disservice.

Of course, in the interest of helping my friend Deena Thomson share the love about her book Poppies, and potentially helping a reader who might enjoy her book (with a catch-phrase of "One moment can change a liftime"), I encourage you to check out the Google Books listing for it -- read what it's about, check out the glowing reviews, read some free samples, then check out the options available to purchase it (putting in a plug that because of it's availability through Ingram distribution virtually any bookstore anywhere can order it for you if you'd rather go with your favourite local bookstore)

Of course there are more thoughts swirling around in my head than are typed out in this blog right now, Horatio.  Too many thoughts to attempt to put into a consise post, so I'll just stop here and keep noodling on more ideas.

But one thing is for sure, I love thinking about this stuff.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

As Publishing Evolves The Value Proposition Increases

Yesterday I rambled on about self-publishing and how the gigantic increase in this area is affecting the traditional publishing world.  Award winning authors like Terry Fallis have bridged the gap and turned self-publishing into a way to break into the traditional publishing world.

But what I'm really forseeing is the merging of these two worlds -- the traditional manner of getting a book to consumers, and the multiple ways that exist for that to happen using "direct" delivery.

Here's the real trick, at least in my mind:  How and where publishers and booksellers can continue to add value in a self-publish and self-serve world.

Photo: "End of an Era"

Publishers offer a true and conrete value to a book.  First, they sift through incredibly large piles of content (known as the slush pile) -- There are huge rooms with shelves and boxes filled to overpacking with manuscripts yet to be looked at in every major publishing house.  Having edited a few anthologies, I can attest to having giant piles of story manuscripts to sift through threatening to completely take over my work space. And having been through the offices of many smaller publishers, I can certainly attest to the boxes and shelves stuffed with manuscripts from hopeful writers.  Given the ability and acceptance of electronic submissions (remember, I grew up in a world where writers actually typed their manuscripts out and snail mailed them to publishers, so to me the slush pile occupies a huge physical space), I can only imagine the number of servers stuff with electronic submissions in publisher databases and that these "piles" are far larger than any physical one ever was.  Thus, the chances of making it through the traditional publishing world are still quite tough.

Of course, simply selecting what to publish is a huge value add for publishers, but then the next step, the editing process, that's where a great deal of value is added to a book.  As a writer, I've been fortunate enough to have worked with some amazing editors over the years.  And if you talk to most writers you'll find there's often a great deal of respect offered between writer and editor. Often, the relationship between the two is a grand collaboration, a partnership, rather than an adversarial one.  Sure, there's always the stereotype of the editor's red pen struggling against the writer's purple prose passages in a Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker type battle.  But I ultimately see more good come out of these relationships.  Check the acknowledgements in the back of most books and you'll see a tip of the hat to the author's editor.

Publishers add additional value, of course, in the layout, design, marketing, cataloging and selling of the title -- but I won't get into that right here, because that would likely take many more paragraphs.

Similar to the value that publishers offer through selecting and refining the author's words, the bookseller, too, adds value.  (And yes, I'll admit to being a little biased in this regard, but if you disagree go write your own blog post)  A reader now has more choice than ever before when it comes to reading.  Take a look at the fantastic article by Hugh McGuire on the Tools of Change Blog called Sifting Through All These Books.

Even if you forget about the self-published books, since 2002 we've seen a 105% increase in poetry and drama books (11,766), 80% increase in the number of biographies published (12,313), an 80% increase in general fiction titles (45,181), a 75% increase in literature (10,843), a 50% increase in religion titles (19,310), and a 30% increase in science books (15.428). There have been declines in only three of the twenty-five categories tracked by Bowker: Agriculture (down 6%), computers (down 32%), and languages (down 32%). Across the spectrum, we've seen a 32% increase in all titles published since 2002, all without an appreciable increase (that I know of) in the number of people who actually buy books, let alone read them.  - from McGuire's article on TOC blog

In the article, McGuire points out the overwhelming supply that far outweighs the demand.  Yes, this is despite the fact that the lists produced from publishers are already culled.  McGuire then goes into ways in which huge volumes of content can be shared so that the good stuff can be found, comparing books to blogs.

What becomes valuable, then, are ways to save customers having to sort through all the options and land on something worth reading.

Arguably, booksellers have already been doing that -- similar to the way a publisher culls down from a gigantic pile of submissions to a list of titles to publish each season, a bookseller similarly culls that down to an even smaller selection from a publisher's catalog.  When a bookseller goes through a publisher's offering they're considering several things -- among them is the question:  Is this book something I think my customers will like?

That's a very key question, and booksellers now have access to great tools to help them out. Because perhaps there are titles that I, as a bookseller, overlooked from a catalog but that are selling well in other locations in Canada.  BookNet Canada Sales Data offers a fantastic way for me to help me manage some of my inventory selection, ensure I'm not missing out on trends and other sleeper titles I might have overlooked when doing my culling. Having access to such information as a bookseller is virtually priceless and allows me to add tremendous value to my store and customers.

But there's an additional value add that you can see more easily, particularly when it comes to speciality retailers. If you go into a bookstore in Toronto like Books for Business, Mabel's Fables or BakkaPhoenix what do you get?

Well, for one, you get a speciality retailer who really knows a particular line of books from various publishers. You get expertise in a particular area that can quickly and dramatically help you save time when trying to find the perfect book to suit your need.

That's not to say that a standard bookstore isn't going to offer you the same great service, the same great expertise -- but chances are, if I'm looking for a recommendation for a great book for a father to read to his daughter, I'll get the best chance of scoring at a speciality children's bookstore than I would in any other bookshop.  No slam against other booksellers intended.  It's simply that the odds are better there.

However, local community bookstores that don't specialize in a product might specialize in something else. Perhaps what they specialize in isn't the product, but the customer. One of my favourite joys as a bookseller is getting to know a particular customer's likes and hates. Getting a feel for the type of thing that you know a customer is going to absolutely adore so that when a new title in a particular genre or subject area comes in, you almost immediately picture that customer reading it.  Based on my experience having done this, I'm pretty sure that the customer ends up satisfied and that's why they keep returning. It's particularly gratifiying when you help that customer discover a new book or a new author that they otherwise wouldn't have normally discovered, except perhaps by chance. And it's one of the things that has most motivated me as a bookseller.

I've rambled on a bit about the types of value that both publishers and booksellers add to the supply chain and could potentially add to a world where the shot-gun approach to publishing and book production, now made even more complex by the ease of the fantastic D-I-Y methods that exist means there's more to select from than ever before.

All I'm really trying to say is that I think that part of the evolution needs to seriously consider where the greatest value is that each entity in the chain provides, and to ensure that, moving forward focus is kept on what those values are and the most efficient way to deliver them so that all parties, from the writer, editor and others at the creation stage, to the publisher, distributor and marketer and all those in the packaging stage, to the bookseller and those at the curation stage, right down to the consumer and reader of the content are getting the most out of the experience.

And I'll keep these rose coloured glasses on as I continue to noodle over this concept, assuming that somewhere in this mess there are ways for every traditional entity in the publishing world to exist alongside the newer distribution models -- and no, the traditional outlets will not continue the way they exist today, because a serious evolutionary change needs to take place -- but I believe there's a way for all to exist and prosper in a newly evolved world that allows the cream (particularly the cream as defined by the end consumer), to rise to the top.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Democratization of the Slush Pile

There's an interesting article by Mark Medley in Saturday's National Post called Self-Publishing: Doing it yourself and doing it better which is part of an Ecology of Books series examining the interrelationships comprising Canada's publishing industry.

The article begins by looking at Terry Fallis who took the self-publishing route a few years ago after several aborted attempts at going the traditional way.  And thank goodness Fallis didn't give up when he faced those brick walls, because when he self-published The Best Laid Plans in 2007 he proved something. Sure, publishers do a fantastic job of selecting great books to be published each year -- but each year, many more great books don't end up seeing the light of day.

Fallis went on to win the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour for his first novel and then landed a publishing contract with McClelland & Stewart who republished the book and is releasing the sequel The High Road this fall.  (Last week I was raving about how progressive M&S is being in letting Fallis podcast the novel prior to the book's official print release)

The Best Laid Plans is currently the "One Book One Community" selection for the Waterloo Region and has been receiving consistent praise since it first came out.  I've already begun listening to Chapter 3 of the podcast for The High Road and am enjoying it as much if not more than I enjoyed the first novel.  Slipping back into Fallis's fictional world which takes a satirical look at Canadian politics is like being reunited with long lost friends.

The National Post article also mentions the Espresso Book Machine at my bookstore at McMaster University along with the huge success we've had helping self-published authors realize their dreams. Since Mark Medley interviewed me about it I've been thinking a lot about that.

I have been a bookseller for almost twenty years now and have certainly seen my share of self-published books that were obviously self-published for a reason.  (The reason, of course, is that no publisher was willing to touch the book)  And yes, I hate saying this because I as an author I'm also quite sensitive to the criticism of the world at large, but so many of the self-published titles that have crossed my path since I began bookselling are ones that rarely pass the "first page" test.  Often they simply weren't "ready for prime time" -- they either didn't capture my interest or else read like a first draft that needed either a major re-write or a fantastic editor to help them polish it up.

I'll even admit that when Fallis, a McMaster graduate, approached me about doing a book signing for The Best Laid Plans back in 2007 I went to his website to check out his book and a sample of his writing.  And yes, I was leery, cautious and somewhat dreading the whole experience. Sure, I wanted to support a Mac Author but setting up a book signing, ordering in a bunch of books that are more than likely going to just eat up shelf space and not sell takes a lot of time and expense. Booksellers everywhere need to make difficult decisions like that every day -- deciding to put a particular book on your shelf becomes an investment in the hope that that book sells; every single book you bring in that doesn't sell is akin to lost money.  And while it may be easy not to order certain titles from a giant catalog, it's more difficult to say no to the hopeful smile of a local author standing in your store.

So, yes, I did approach the Fallis novel with caution.  However, I wasn't more than a couple of sentences into The Best Laid Plans when I was immediately charmed, hooked and swept into the fictional world Fallis had created.  Despite the fact that I had virtually no interest in reading fiction about Canadian politics (I mean, really, can you imagine a more dry topic?) he had me pretty much by the first word and kept me rivetted until the end. His characters, writing style and plot were top notch. I was haunted by the ghost of Robertson Davies, I was reminded of the slightly off-centre humour found in John Irving novels. All my instincts told me that Fallis was indeed a writer to watch and so I immediately called him back and practically begged him to come to our store to do his book launch at Titles. And from that day onward, I've been proudly watching this author rise to a much-deserved success.

Yes, the experience Terry Fallis had going the self-publishing route is a unique one and, as Fallis himself says in the National Post article, akin to a "lightning strike" -- however, since getting the Espresso Book Machine at Titles bookstore back in November of 2008, I've seen hundreds more self-published authors.  And no, I haven't read the books of every single one of them, but giving them the first line test and first page test I have to say I've been quite impressed by the quality of many of them.  In fact, in the past couple of years, I've been more impressed with the quality of the self-published titles I've seen than at any time in my bookselling career.

Several of the titles that I helped work on, such as the Alicia Snell biography Me Minus 173: From 328 Pounds to the Boston Marathon affected me in the same manner as the Fallis novel. No, I'm not a fan of self-help biographies, but Snell's prose pulled me in and didn't let go. I simply couldn't not read the whole thing. In fact, her book, which is as inspirational and entertaining as listening to Snell speak (she does fantastic motivational talks) inspired me to new heights and helped me change my life for the better.

When I asked Snell why she was paying us to print her book and suggested she send it to a publisher, she explained that the book had already gone the rounds with at least 4 major publishers. In each case, the book made it as far up the chain as an editorial round-table -- but with each major publishing house, the book was rejected due to reasons such as: "oh we already did a self-help title last month" or "we already have a diet book on our fall list."

Yet another case of a great book that didn't see the light of day in the traditional world due to nothing more than timing. Had those publishers not produced similar titles at the time Snell's manuscript crossed their desks, it would have been published by them.  But instead, the timing wasn't there, and now Snell, who has produced the book herself, is enjoying the success of having to return and getting more books printed because she keeps selling out of them.  A good problem to have, I suppose.

There are many more titles like that which I've had the pleasure of experiencing thanks to the self-publishing services offered through our bookstore. Books that are not only allowing authors to have their voices heard, but books that end up touching the lives of others and making a positive difference.  And it feels really good to be a part of not only being able to sell these books to customers, but helping the authors achieve their goals of getting the book out there.

Admittedly, yes, there is still a stigma attached to self-published titles -- but I've seen dozens upon dozens of great titles come through the print on demand option offered by our services at the bookstore at McMaster. Yes, some are published merely to be shared among a small group of friends or family. But some will reach a broader audience, be lifted beyond being carried in a single bookstore and championed by a small group of independent booksellers.

It strikes me that the publishing landscape, particularly one in which more than half of all the books published in 2009 were self-published titles, is becoming more diverse and dynamic than ever before.  I'm reminded of a comment that Richard Nash made on stage at the 2010 BookNet Canada Tech Forum -- he described the golden age of publishing as a bunch of white men in tweed jackets publishing each other. In addressing the publishing industry I must borrow the slogan from Virginia Slims: "You've come a long way, baby!"

It strikes me that the publishing world is undergoing an interesting shift, where a title might become big not because it was originally selected as a "million dollar advance" title from a major New York publishing house, but because word of mouth from readers and booksellers (typically combined with a heck of a lot of sweat and hard work from the author) helped it get there.  That the community aspect of publishing and bookselling is becoming more important than ever before.

Thanks to emerging technologies, many different companies and services geared towards helping authors choose an alternative path, and the tireless efforts authors are putting into promoting their work, the democratization of the slush pile is beginning to happen and writers who would normally not be given a chance to shine are having their voices heard.

Interesting times we live in.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

HNT - FlashBlackout

June 10, 2010 is Save FlashForward blackout day.  Folks around the world are staging a fake mini blackout in cities around the world -- a tribute to the 2 minute and 17 second blackout experienced by everyone around the world all at the same time in the ABC television series which premiered in Sept 2009 and was cancelled after a single season.

The TV series was, of course, based on a novel by Robert J. Sawyer written about a dozen years ago.  Like so many of Sawyer's novels, it was a excellent read, and fortunately the TV series ressurected interest in this great book, bringing Sawyer a whole new realm of readers to rediscover this great modern classic sci-fi tale that questions whether or not the future, if seen in advance, can be altered. Predeterminism vs freewill is a fascinating premise that makes both the novel and the television series riveting.

During the 2 minute and 17 second blackout in the novel, everyone around the world passed out and sees 21 years into the future.  In the television show, they see about 6 months into the future.  But of course, the main key scene that the novel and TV series open with is the major blackout and the "flashforwards" everyone experiences.

Folks are hoping that the blackout stunt all around the world on the same day gets enough attention for ABC or some other television network to pick up the series and continue it where it left off (with a bit of a beautiful cliff-hanger ending)

In celebration of blackout day, June 10th, I thought it might be neat to have people who couldn't make it to the large staged blackouts go to their local book store and pick up a copy of Sawyer's novel and stage a blackout.  If we can't get the show on TV, perhaps we can alter the current slow first quarter in Canadian bookselling and give a bit of a boost to book sales.

Or if not, then at least give an extra boost to sales of a deserving novel written by a great author.

In any case, while staging a photo for HNT (I was going to take a picture of myself reading FlashForward), I blacked out.  For 2 minutes and 17 seconds.

Here's the picture my camera snapped when it landed on the floor just a split second behind my own landing.

But I'm not telling what I saw during my blackout.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

21 Tips For Authors Using Social Media

Social media guru Chris Brogan recently posted An Author's Plan for Social Media Efforts on his blog.

A list of the top 21 things an author should consider doing, Brogan creates a concise and useful point form summary that, where necessary, links to more detailed posts. This is perfect for someone dipping in and wanting to learn more. Looking at the list, an author can quickly decide to take action on an item, then follow the link to get more in depth information on how to do it.

Brogan, the author of Trust Agents and Social Media 101 gives away some tremendously useful advice.

One of my favourite tips is the following...

3. On the blog [the one Brogan suggests you set up in point 2 on his list] write about interesting things that pertain to the book, but don't just promote the book over and over again. In fact, blow people away by promoting their blogs and their books, if they're related a bit

What I like most is the suggestion that the author should be providing value, not just "selling" their book repeatedly. Being a "salesperson" and constantly pushing your book is a sure-fire way to turn people away. A good deal about the book Trust Agents, which Brogan co-wrote with Julien Smith covers just that concept -- using the web and social media to humanize business.

Consider what Brogan did in this very blog post. He's not being pushing and selling his books. He's taking a step back and providing something for free -- he's offering a real value to readers. Chances are the readers who find value in what he is giving away for free are going to consider checking out his books.

I know I've read both of them and can say that if you think Brogan offers great value to authors in this post and well as on his blog, you can be assured that his books offer even more value.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Avoiding E-Books Because They Just Don't Smell Right?

Have you been avoiding e-books because they just don't smell right? Smell is an often overlooked yet critically important sense when it comes to fully appreciating an experience.

As exciting as digital books are, there's something lacking still preventing the majority from jumping on the e-book bandwagon -- perhaps it's that special "smell" of a book.

C'mon, admit it. When you crack open a new book you can't help but to sniff it in. It's just part of the experience.

Well, now you can have your e-book experience and smell it too, thanks to Smell-of-Books, an aerosol e-book enhancer.

Not since spray bacon has such a revolutionary idea come to such a small container.

Coming in scents such a Classic Musty Smell, Scent of Sensibility and Eau You Have Cats, there's a scent for almost every taste. And Smell of Books is compatible with virtually any digital reading device. (And as a special bonus, it comes with absolutely no DRM)

Reading e-books has never felt so natural and comfortable. Your e-book reader might be new, made out of plastic, and frustrate you because the battery is again dead. But while it's charging yet again, you can relax, secure in the comfort your room can still smell like it contains vintage classic paperback volumes.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Taking The High Road

I was delighted to see M&S come out with a very progressive way of celebrating the Terry Fallis novel The High Road, which comes out in Sept 2010.

Particularly in this time of the new copyright act (Bill C32) and all the noise it's causing in the industry (Quill & Quire: Association heads at odds over copyright legislation - Geist summary 1: Copyright Bill, Flawed By Fixable, Geist summary 2: The Day After Media Coverage), I find it refreshing that a larger Canadian publisher is willing to let this freely distributed podcast (ie, no DRM) begin to be pushed out to consumers months before the print version of the book is released.

I've seen much evidence over the years of how this type of move has meant success for a variety of authors including Fallis himself -- Fallis is a McMaster grad; I first encountered his wonderful novel when he contacted my bookstore to set up a book signing for his self-published novel The Best Laid Plans, which went on to win the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour. I've had the pleasure of watching him go from a beginning writer to a widely celebrated success -- that's the kind of thing that often gives booksellers a heart-warming feeling)

By the time the book comes out, there will be a pre-existing audience waiting to buy the print copy version of the book. Part of me wants to do it just to support this trusting Canadian publishing imprint, but a larger part of me wants to do it because Fallis is a phenomenal writer and as a book nerd I want to OWN a copy of everything he writes. And I know I'm not the only one out there who feels this way.

I've written about this bold and wonderful move in my column for The Mark News - where I also make a bold prediction.

I was also tickled that the editors of The Mark News used a cool picture (see above) with the header for my article featuring many successful podcast-turned print publishing contract novels by authors such as Scott Sigler, J.C. Hutchins, Matt Wallace and Mur Lafferty.

So three cheers for Canadian publishing, and three cheers for Terry Fallis!

Now go give The High Road a listen. Chapter One had me laughing out loud.

Overcoming Internet Distractions With Mark Leslie

Getting Published With Mark Leslie, Episode 11 has been posted at The Writing Show.

In this very brief episode, host Paula B and I touched base on how I am coming along with the writing of A Canadian Werewolf in New York and we also did a draw for a free copy of CAMPUS CHILLS (which you can win just by participating in The Writing Show forum)

Of note: I have come up with a small and simple strategy to help me get past my issues with "internet distraction" thanks to a bus/train ride into Toronto. Moving to internet-free spaces to get the writing done. Seriously, when was the last time someone purposely sought out a coffee shop that DOESN'T offer free WiFi? It's the latest trick I'm attempting to use to get that novel done in small fits and starts.

It's interesting how recent episodes of this podcast which I've long been a fan of have become a tiny bit of "All Mark Leslie all the time!" lately.

Episode 10 of Getting Published with Mark Leslie went live May 9.

Then I did a guest host interview discussing World-building and other sci-fi fun with Robert J. Sawyer which went live May 30th.

And now, Episode 11 of my "Getting Published" series is up June 3rd.

And of course, if you listen to Episode 11, you'll hear I just interviewed Kelley Armstrong for a forthcoming Writing Show podcast. (I'm enjoying spreading the love about wonderful Canadian authors - perhaps I'll make a habit of it)

Here's hoping people who subscribe to Paula B's wonderful podcast don't get sick of me.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

HNT - Authors At CBA

Last weekend at the Canadian Booksellers Association National Conference, I had the chance to meet and chat with several different authors and publishers.

This week's HNT features pictures of me with two of the authors.

Matt James is the illustrator of I KNOW HERE

Lesley Crew is the author of HER MOTHER'S DAUGHTER

I'm lucky to have such a great job that meeting and hanging out with authors from across our great country is just one of the fringe benefits of being a bookseller.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Writing Show Interview With Robert J. Sawyer

Photo of Rob at Titles Bookstore by Peter Rainford

About a month ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert J. Sawyer and chat a little bit about world-building, about the experience of having his novel FLASHFORWARD adapted into an ABC television program, about his latest novel WATCH in the WWW triology, about future projects and advice he might have for beginning sci-fi writers.

It's always a delight to chat with Rob, but this particularly conversation is even more special to me because it can be shared with The Writing Show listeners. I was excited to be a guest host on this fantastic resource for writers.

The podcast features a brief interview with Rob then an additional audio clip of Rob reading from WATCH at Titles Bookstore McMaster University.

Check out the podcast here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

CBA National Conference / Libris Awards

Wow - what a phenomenal three days.

Getting a book signed by Phyllis Smallman

I've always felt that one of the fringe benefits of working in the industry I do is about the people. Interacting with customers, other booksellers, publishers and authors is something I find endlessly inspiring.

Michael Neil's BookManager session

So getting to spend several days at the Canadian Booksellers Association National Conference hanging out with the bookish drives me forward and motivates me. Bringing together fantastic people from across our industry for an intimate and dynamic three days of discussion, learning, sharing and networking is pure gold to this book nerd.And while the entire three days of this past bookish "long weekend" was great, I think that the Libris Awards ceremony, which took place Saturday night, was the perfect example of an industry coming together. Because after all we've been through, taking the time to celebrate all of the people in our industry: from those who write them, illustrate them, edit them, produce and promote them, to those who sell them -- virtually everyone who has a role in seeing great Canadian books connect meaningfully with readers.

John Torella's inspiring keynote presentation

The Libris Awards pay tribute to authors, editors, sales reps, distributors, publishers and booksellers -- and in doing so, underscore the extremely collaborative nature of the book industry and allow us to celebrate that together.

Yes digital is here, yes publishing and bookselling is undergoing a dramatic shift. But books still matter. A lot. Nomatter what format it is produced in, nomatter how it is consumed by the reader, across our industry the passion and excitement for what books bring people makes it much more than a simple commodity. Books, the stories they tell, the way they are told and the information they provide have the power to transform lives.

Shelagh Rogers, Master of Ceremonies for the CBA Libris Awards

I had the distinct pleasure and honour of getting to kick off the Libris Awards this year, as well as introducing Shelagh Rogers, host of The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One. Being the book nerd fan boy that I am, I was also thrilled for the opportunity to sit with her and CBA radio producer Jacqueline Kirk -- they were both charming, down to earth and filled with passion and a youthful enthusiasm.

Shortly after we discussed digital books and media, and Shelagh and I compared her Blackberry to my iPhone, when we couldn't remember a particular fact related to the history of bookselling in Canada that we'd been discussing, Shelagh challenged me to a "Google" search dual on our smart phone devices. We drew our "weapons" and searched.

Shelagh demonstrating her lightning-quick Blackberry fingers

Shelagh, of course, being a pro, beat me by about a second and a half. But the cool thing was, that name which was on the tip of the tongues of everyone at our table was discovered quickly and efficiently due to a small electronic device that didn't exist a decade ago. It was just one of those moments of the past, present and future coming together.

The fun at our table during dinner felt like a family reunion even though very few of the people at the table had actually met one another prior to that evening.

Based on what I saw at so many other tables the same thing was happening. Because in my mind, the awards weren't just about celebrating the nominees and the winners, but a celebration of our industry, and about folks coming together.

A shot from the stage at the CBA Libris Awards

As Shelagh and so many of my colleagues helped usher in this year's CBA Libris Award winners, I felt myself beaming a huge smile and delighted for all those who were being recognized. I was particularly excited to see the inaugural Chase Paymentech Young Bookseller of the Year Award -- considering the fine calibre of the winner and the short-listed nominees in this category gave this bookseller hope that when the older generation is ready to retire, the industry is in phenomenal hands.

Many dialogues and discussions were opened this past weekend that give me more hope, more inspiration and more drive as a bookseller than ever before. We face huge challenges, a digital tipping point and a brave new world.

Given the explosion of choice for customers, both within the reading spectrum and outside of it, high and strong competition for a person's leisure time, the roll of publishers and booksellers as curators becomes more, not less important. Focusing on the added value that are brought when you consider the important that roll allows in saving a customer precious and valuable time rather than simply on the commodity of "selling" a book, we become more important, more critical, more relevant than ever before.