Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Positive reinforcement from my local library

I'm a writer, for sure, but I am not sure my behaviour is normal for your average writer of middling success.

For example, on my lunch hour today, I made my way to the central branch of our city's public library system to browse their ongoing, and always interesting, used book sale.

I found nothing I was willing to buy, even at the ridiculously low prices they offer, but then I remembered that the library system had purchased about a half dozen copies of my first collection of children's stories.

Wouldn't it be neat, I thought to myself, to see my book in situ in a real library? On the shelves, among the other children's books? Like my self-published little gem was actually the real thing?

So I wandered down to the children's section and started to browse. Now, you have to realise, when you're a middle-aged man, you can't simply stroll into the children's section of a public library without being noticed.

I couldn't immediately find my book on the shelves and, after a few moments, the librarian came over to enquire if she could help me. I couldn't help but feel her helpfulness was driven, at least partially, by suspicion. You can't blame her, and it was probably all in my head, but....

What do you do? How do you answer that question?

Any answer but the truth -- that I'm an author with an ego issue who wants to see his own little book on the shelves of the library -- is likely going to make me look pretty creepy and result in a call to security. But the truth itself is pretty embarrassing.

I chose embarrassment over creepy and told her that I was the author of a children's book, that I understood the library system had purchased a number of copies of it, and that I had decided I wanted to treat myself to the thrill of seeing it right there on the shelves.

I'm grateful to say that, instead of mocking or pitying me, she helped me find the book.

Boy, did it ever look nice right there on the shelves. It looked like a real book and it made me feel like a real author.

"Do you want to sign it?" the librarian asked. "We like our books to be signed where possible."

So, after a little hesitation, I agreed to sign the book. While I was doing that, and feeling pretty good about myself in the process, this kind librarian handed me another gem.

"Wow," she said. "I'm looking up the borrowing history of your book. We've only had it on the shelves for 11 months and it's been borrowed 10 times. When you figure each person can borrow it for up to three weeks, add a week for processing when it is returned, that makes your book pretty much out 100% of the time."

Awesome. What started as a potentially embarrassing situation turned into a fantastic ego boost. Thanks Fredericton Public Library.

Monday, July 28, 2014

There's nothing like some positive words from strangers...

The author, left, chats with appreciative readers
This is what it's all about. Writing is, at its heart, an act of communication and, in my humble opinion, nothing is more thrilling for a writer (for this writer at least) than having the chance to communicate directly with people who are interested in his work.

I was invited to attend a book signing event on Sunday at the McAdam Railway Station and Hotel, the historical edifice in which I have set my collections of stories for young readers.

Held in conjunction with the Station's very popular "Railway Pie Sunday" event, the book signing proved to be a tremendous success, with surprisingly strong sale of the three existing volumes of stories and plenty of interest in the upcoming release of the Christmas novella.

I even sold a couple of the audio book version of the first volume of stories.

Even more exciting for me as a writer, however, was getting the chance to talk to dozens of people who have actually read the books. The feedback I received was consistently positive and supportive. And people who were new to the project proved to be very excited by what we are trying to accomplish through the sale of these books and eager to get reading.

It's a wonderful feeling for a writer to receive such positive feedback from people he's never met. Sure, our families and friends say nice things about our writing and we appreciate their kindness in doing so. But to have complete strangers come forward to tell you how much they like your stories, how excited they are to learn that another novella is on the way... that's a fantastic, inspiring feeling.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Anne Perry -- Billionaire???

What writers of middling success put up with. Episode 1.

I'm in the local public library, perusing the collection of books they have for sale and there's a guy standing next to me, smelling of cigarettes, also checking out the books on offer.

"Man," he says to me after a second, "there writers must be <expletive deleted> rich. Every <expletive deleted> one of them."

I take a moment to consider my own current financial situation, find it to be incompatible with his assertion, and say, "How do you mean?"

He points to an entire shelf of Anne Perry novels that are up for sale. "Look at all of them," he says, half-envious, half-contemptuous. "Don't tell me she's not <ed> rich. And then they'll go and make movies of all of them <ed> books and she'll be a billionaire."

The lineup of Anne Perry hardcovers was indeed impressive. All of them in great condition and to be had for just $2 per book. I have nothing against Ms. Perry -- in fact, I don't even really know the kind of books she writes -- but I am certainly not inspired to shell out the $30 or so required to acquire the entire collection on offer.

So I say to him. "Well, why don't you get on that gravy train yourself?"

He shrugs. "I ain't got the patience. I guess it would take a lot of time to write a book. Like a whole month. Maybe even two."

He wanders away.

I wonder away. Wish I could write a novel as good as Anne Perry's novels no doubt are. Wish I could write any novel in a month... and become a billionaire in the process.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A change of writing direction

Change of direction.

I seem to have lost momentum on the comic novel so I'm turning my attention back to Phillip Gold in Fredericton.

This is one of those odd moments a writer often faces when he or she has several projects percolating in the brain but has to decide, finally, to focus on just one.

For me, the choices were another Abigail Massey set of stories, the comic novel that I've planned and actually begun to write and the revision of my latest (but unpublished) courtroom thriller to change its location and bring it to life in my new home town.

These decisions are never easy. First of all, any one of the projects from which I have to choose involves a great deal of work and a massive commitment of time and energy. Once you commit, you've committed for a year or more.

And you have to throw yourself into the chosen project fully and completely, without looking back and without backtracking.

What went into the decision for me?

Most of all, the fact that I have missed writing Phillip Gold. He is where I started as a mature writer and he is the creation that most fascinates and interests me.

The Abigail stories have been a lot of fun and I don't doubt I will do more but, with the new novella coming out this fall, I have a window of opportunity to focus on something else. I don't have to move right into writing more Abigail stories simply to continue the momentum of the project.

And the comic novel? Well, to be honest, it still scares me a bit. I haven't been able to force myself to sit down to work on it because, I think, I have little confidence in myself as a comic writer.

Maybe someday I'll find that confidence. The plan is a good one and the characters seem interesting.

But for now, I'll focus on my first writing love.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So where do we go next?

Decisions. Decisions.

I've long been committed to spending the next year writing my comic novel. It's all planned out in my head and I've even written a pretty decent first (second?) chapter.

But, as time has passed, I've moved further and further away from the initial inspiration and I'm less and less sure I want to dedicate my precious time to it.

And I'm starting to find my thoughts turning back to the central love of my writing life: my mystery/courtroom drama novels.

I've written three such novels, featuring my lawyer protagonist Phillip Gold, and have even come fairly close to getting the third one published. Close, but, of course, still not published.

But I love writing these books and I'm wondering if I might find better luck in the publishing world if I lift the events of the last novel out of their original setting (Hamilton, Ontario) and drop them, revised of course, into a small Maritime City. There are a number of publishing houses in the Atlantic Provinces that specialize in local writers with local subjects and I might just be able to tap into one of them.

If I can capture a more maritime feeling in the novel.

And then, of course, there are the Abigail stories to think about.

Ahh, decisions... life-changing decisions.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Arriving at a creative crossroads...

I have to admit it. I'm at something of a crossroads.

I have been working to promote my children's books, written, self-published and sold with all proceeds going to support the renovation of a local historical landmark, in every way possible.

With my sister and the rest of our team of volunteers, I've done everything the writers' magazines and websites have advised:

  • We've made public appearances;
  • We've worked hard to stir up interest in the media (with moderate success);
  • We've created a website, a Facebook site, and a Twitter account for the books and our main character;
  • I personally have been on the web as much as possible, trying to promote my own brand;
  • I am writing regularly for at least four different blogs, including this one
  • We've produced promotional mugs and fridge magnets, advertising posters and free bookmarks promoting the stories;
  • We've designed and created an interesting point-of-sale display to help sell books in the various shops that offer them to the public; and
  • Now, finally, we've produced an audio book of the stories in the first book.

Frankly, I don't know what more I can do.

The response has been very positive in a lot of ways. To our surprise, the first volume of stories sold more than 1,200 copies very quickly.

We were on a high. We were riding a wave. The media was interested, people were coming out to our public appearances. It was all good.

Sales of the second and third volumes, however, were not quite as overwhelming. Sure, selling 500 copies of each one is pretty good. Outstanding, to be honest, if you figure we don't have a publisher with a promotions arm to support us and we're only for sale at a small number of outlets in a limited geographic area.

But I just don't know where to go from here. How do we push this project to the next level?

How do we break out of the geographic limitations we're facing to reach a wider audience? How do we get national media interested? How do we reach readers who don't even know our books exist?

Or do I simply publish the fourth book (a Christmas novella, coming this November), promote it as best I can, and then move on to other projects?

After all, I've got an idea for a comic novel that is just itching to get out of my brain and onto the page. Should I call it a day on the children's story project and move on?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Amazing, humbling moments of feedback

Every once in a while you need to have a day that reminds you why you spend so much time and energy writing.

I had such a day yesterday. I was invited down to the Village of McAdam to take part in its Canada Day celebrations, talk to the people and maybe sell a few books.

It was a hot, humid, glorious day and the crowds at the event were surprisingly large, considering the heat and humidity.

I met a lot of really nice people and received a great deal of enthusiastic feedback on my writing. That, in itself, was fantastic. I have often said that writers of middling success, like me, don't get enough feedback (positive or negative) on the writing itself. We're not often reviewed in newspapers, online or in magazines and we don't have massive online presences to which our readers can submit questions or comment (and, believe me, I have tried very hard to build an online presence but it is slow slow going).

But two incidents from the six hours I spent yesterday in McAdam stand out in a really positive, almost overwhelming way.

Early in the day, a neat, prim woman with silver grey hair and glasses approached the table, a smile illuminating her face. I expected her to tell me that she had purchased the Abigail books for her grandchildren or that she had visited the Station many times, as is usually how such conversations go.

Instead, this very kindly looking woman saw the poster advertising the publication of the A McAdam Station Christmas scheduled for this coming November and actually did a little dance.

"So there's going to another book?" she said to me, beaming.

I confirmed that the story has already been written and work is currently underway on the illustrations and design for the new book.

She did another little jig, her arms waving with controlled delight.

"I have read every one of your stories," she then told me. "I just love them. I was so hoping there would be more."

I was stunned, to be honest, and honoured and a bit overwhelmed. I had written these stories for children and yet here was clear evidence that adults were reading and enjoying them too. And to see her excitement and delight... well, that was an amazing feeling for me as a writer. The best feedback I could ever hope for.

Then, a short while later, another woman stopped by my table with her young daughter. She smiled at me, looked over the display and noted the posters that said the next Abigail Massey book is coming out in November. "That's great news," she said. "My son will be so happy."

I thanked her for her kind words.

"Are you the author?" she asked, her eyes brightening even further.

I said I am, indeed, the author.

She told me she and her family are from Toronto, Ontario but have connections to McAdam. She explained that a family friend had sent copies of all three of the Abigail story books to both her daughter and her son and that her son, in particular, had loved them.

"He's here somewhere with my husband," she said. "I'll have to find him and bring him over to meet you. He'll be so excited."

A short while later, the woman was back, with her entire family this time. Her son was shy but looked with wide eyes at the books on the display. We had created a placeholder in the display for the next book (an appropriately sized box with the mock-up cover pasted to the front) and the young lad saw it, broke into a huge smile and gabbed the placeholder off the display.

Realising he wasn't holding an actual book, he looked up at his mom in confusion.

"It won't be published until November," his mother said, smiling. "You'll have to wait."

The boy looked suddenly downcast, as if waiting until November for the next Abigail adventure was simply too much to ask. I felt a sense of awe at that moment, seeing how much the books that I had written and my sister had designed and illustrated have come to mean to this sweet young boy from a thousand miles away.

"Is there something else you want?" his mother asked, directing his attention to our selection of Abigail mugs, fridge magnets and audio books.

The boy mumbled something, which I didn't catch, but his mother laughed. "I have no doubt we can take a picture of you with Mark!"

He glanced shyly up at me and, with an immense feeling of wonder and gratitude, I came around the table and posed with this young man. The feeling of excitement radiated from him as his mother clicked away with her smart phone.

I shook his hand at the end of it and thanked him for reading my books. His mother asked if I would be okay with her posting the photo on Twitter. And then they were gone.

It was an amazing, humbling moment for me. I have no great expectation that I will be the next J.K. Rowling or that the Abigail books will become New Brunswick's answer to Anne of Green Gables but, for that brief interlude at least, I got a taste of what that must feel like and a feeling of how important what we write can be for our readers.