July 31, 2012 at 9:45 am (Uncategorized)

My latest article, published by Thought Catalog. This one’s not about writing or art; it’s about the slow decline of a former manufacturing town.

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Getting Publicity for your Novel

July 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Writing a novel is easy compared to selling one. And this is not some dash-it-off-in-three-months, Fifty-Shades-Of-Grey writer telling you this; I spent six years writing Scar. But for all the heartache and hard work that was, trying to get people to buy it is ten times worse.

How do you sell your book, once it’s written? There’s ten thousand articles and blogs out there, giving you helpful tips. But every novel’s unique; what works for one will not work for another.

Personally, I hired a publicist. Right around the time I was promoting Scar, I was also starting a business and moving to a new province, so I simply didn’t have the time to do everything myself. Also, I don’t know a thing about selling books. It’s still a fairly closed-off, insular world, to which I have zero access. I don’t even have friends who read, let alone friends in the book industry. So I decided to pay someone to do it for me.

I worked with Sarah Miniaci (www.sarahminiacipr.com), and I’m thoroughly glad I did. Sarah’s hard work and enthusiasm for the project are admirable, and she got me coverage that I thought would be impossible. Not everything panned out as we had hoped, but that’s a subject for a later post, and in any case, it wasn’t for lack of effort on Sarah’s part.

Should you hire a publicist to promote your book? Depends. If you have a background in sales and marketing, and/or genuinely enjoy chasing reviewers and bloggers to try and get them to cover your book, you may want to do it yourself. A large part of a publicist’s job seems to consist of emailing and phoning people and basically hassling them to get some coverage. It takes a tremendous amount of persistence, and also a fair amount of charm. I have a great deal of the former but next to none of the latter, so I contracted out. You may not have to.

It also depends on the book you’ve written. Some books tap so well into the zeitgeist, or else mysteriously appeal to such a huge number of people, that they don’t take much selling. These are basically lottery winners, though. Very few authors are anything like that lucky.

And of course, it also depends on your budget. I’m not going to tell you what Sarah charges – email her and find out – but I will say that good publicity doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay in the thousands for a six week campaign. And no legitimate publicist will promise you anything. They will try to get your book covered in various media outlets, but there are simply no guarantees. Anyone who promises you anything is not to be trusted.

How do you choose a publicist? It ain’t easy. When I went looking, I couldn’t find a hell of a lot of reviews of them. It’s a fairly big thing to give a complete stranger a few thousand dollars with no guarantees of them doing anything for you.

My advice would be to talk to a few; that’s what I did. Much as I hate talking on the phone, I phoned a handful of publicists I’d found online, talked to them about my novel and asked what they thought they could do for me. Be careful; a lot of so-called ‘publicists’ will do little more than create a press release that no one will ever read. A good publicist is well-connected in the industry, and will have a plan of how they will get coverage for your book. Don’t be afraid to ask them what their plan is.
And be realistic. Publicists try to get you coverage in the media, but there’s no guarantees that it will happen, or that if it does happen, the coverage will be favourable (more on that later). And even if you do get great interviews and glowing reviews, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll sell books. No one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists, and a publicist works to make sure people do know it exists. What the public do with that knowledge, though, is anyone’s guess.


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Schizophrenia Awareness Week

May 20, 2012 at 11:43 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

This week is Schizophrenia Awareness Week, and in the interest of raising awareness, I’m making Scar available for FREE download. Click the link, and use coupon code JD65M at the checkout. Tell everyone you know; offer ends next Sunday!


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Createspace works in mysterious ways

May 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I logged into Createspace today, which is no longer a daily activity for me, the way it was when I first published Scar. Sometimes I’ll go a couple of weeks without checking in.

But today I logged in and found the dashboard looks a little different. It now displays royalties earned in dollars, British pounds and Euros. I clicked around a little more, and found that there’s a whole new sales channel Scar wasn’t enrolled in: Amazon Europe.

When I got started with Creatpace, I paid extra – $35 or something like that – to have my book placed in their Extended Distribution Channel (EDC). This would help my book get listed in non-US Amazon sites, such as Amazon.co.uk, .de, .fr and so on. A while ago, they did away with this system and started including EDC for everyone.

Now they’ve changed the system again, and it’s actually a good thing. It seems they’ve finally realised the whole point of print-on-demand, and started printing books in the country they are ordered in. This means faster shipping times for customers and, thanks to lower production costs, (slightly) higher royalties for authors. Honestly, it’s ridiculous that it’s taken them this long to figure it out. It’s not as though Europe doesn’t have printing facilities, after all. Why print a book in America and ship it across the world when you can just send a computer file?

It’s all good news for those of us who sell books overseas. I just wish Createspace had let us know when the changes were made; an email would have been nice.

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Thought Catalog, I Love You

April 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm (Uncategorized)

Another article I wrote got published on Thought Catalog. I was overwhelmed by the response to the last one, but this one has been treated even more generously. I could get used to this….



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The Blogger’s Return

March 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

It’s pretty disgraceful that I’ve neglected this blog for three solid months. It’s not because I’ve given up, or because I had nothing to write about; quite the opposite.

I’ve moved from the ‘getting the book published’ part of Scar’s little life into the ‘getting people to actually read it’ part. I thought the publishing was difficult and time consuming, but this marketing game is something else. I’m still pretty early into it, with no major successes of which to speak, so I’m not really in a position yet to tell you what works (though I could tell you a few things that don’t).

But for now, I thought I’d share an article I wrote on the realities of being an artist in the modern age. It was picked up by Thought Catalogue, and I’m told was pretty well-received, judging by comments on twitter. I’ve never really understood twitter myself, so I’ll have to take other people’s word for that.

Anyway, you can read it here: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/being-an-artist-in-the-21st-century/

And while we’re at it, let’s make that my first marketing tip. Write an article. You’re a writer, aren’t you? So write something you can give away for free, and find someone who’ll publish it. Like Thought Catalogue. The internet is a ravenous beast, scouring the earth for fresh content to disseminate, every minute of every day. There are lots of sites like this that will let people write for them. And if people like your article, they’ll repost or retweet or whatever it is people do with articles these days, and suddenly people who have never heard of you, have now heard of you.

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Freebies #3: Boxing Day

December 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

As a gift to all those who got ereaders for christmas, I made my story, Hold On, available as a free ebook on smashwords.com.

This is the first story I ever had published, and it won the Federation of BC Writers Literary Writes competition. It’s not all that representative of my style these days, but it’s got one or two tricks that I still find interesting. Enjoy!


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Freebies #2

December 17, 2011 at 11:38 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

Two more free ebooks available now on smashwords: “Of Flowers and Sunlight” and “Linares del Arroyo”. “Linares del Arroyo” received an Honourable Mention in The Fiddlehead magazine’s short story competetion, and was previously published in the Spring 2009 issue.

Go here to read them:


Merry Christmas!

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Creating a book cover: The Dostoevsky/Kardashian Method

December 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

It occurred to me recently that I’ve neglected to mention one very important aspect of publishing Scar: the cover. Part of what got me thinking about this was going through the self-published books on Smashwords, goodreads.com and other sites, and seeing some truly awful covers.

Forget the old cliche about not judging a book by its cover; that’s what the cover is there for. How do you make your book stand out when it’s surrounded by thousands of others, whether on a physical bookstore shelf or online? Your cover is your first chance to get people interested in your book, and if it doesn’t do that, it doesn’t matter if you wrote the best novel in human history; no one will ever know, because no one will ever get past that boring/hideous/offensive cover.

For the self-publisher, the cover of your book needs to do three things:

1)      Grab the (potential) reader’s attention and make them want to know more.

2)      Convey in an instant what kind of book this is, so that you know you’re engaging with the right kind of reader, ie. people who actually read the type of book you’ve written.

3)      Make your book look as professional and high quality as any other book out there.

The first two points are just as important for a major publisher as they are for anyone else, and big publishers will spend thousands on getting the covers of their books right. You don’t need to do that, but you do need to be aware of the tricks and techniques the big guys use, so you can steal borrow them.

Step 1: Grab the reader’s attention

Which of these looks more interesting?

I’ll admit that “Database Issues…” isn’t helped by its subject matter, but the cover for “The Sisters Brothers” draws your eye towards it. It has bright, bold, primary colours; red, in particular, always attracts attention. It has interesting fonts. It has both human figures and what looks like a face, two things we are evolutionarily conditioned to notice and look for, as anyone who doubts Jesus’ appearance in a piece of toast will tell you. One of these books makes you interested to know more, and the other doesn’t, unless you’re really curious about geographic information systems.

Step 2: Attracting the right kind of reader

A good cover should convey the essence of the book in the time it takes to glance at it. Sounds difficult, but fortunately, we humans are visual creatures, and we’ve been conveying information visually for a very long time now. Not only that, but publishers have developed a visual language of book covers that enables customers to make snap-second decisions on books they know nothing about.

Look at these two:

Both attract attention, but whose attention? One is an intense, harrowing exploration of morality and suffering; the other is by Dostoevsky (Ba-boom! Thank you, I’ll be here all week.) ‘The Idiot’ promises sophistication, abstraction, intensity; ‘Kardashian Konfidential’ offers glamour, celebrity and gossip. Both of these books might catch my eye in a bookstore, but I’d only consider buying one of them. The publishers are marketing to two very different demographics, and when they designed the cover on the Kardashian’s book, they weren’t thinking of me.

Look at books similar to yours; does your cover look like theirs? If you’ve written a story about a single girl in the city trying to choose between her sexy but caddish boss and her endearingly nerdy childhood sweetheart, a hot pink cover with a pair of shoes on the front is perfectly appropriate, but it might not work as well for a dystopian steampunk fantasy.

Step 3: Looking the part

If you take the time to learn the language of book covers, you’re already halfway to not looking like an amateur, because you’ll quickly learn how to target the right audience with your cover. But there are other pitfalls to avoid. One that self-published writers often make is having covers that are far too ‘busy’.  Just because your book has scenes set in Paris, Australia and outer space doesn’t mean you have to have the Eiffel Tower, Ayers rock and the moon on the cover. Don’t try and tell the story in an image; that’s not what the cover is for. You want to give a sense of the overall tone of the book, but that’s all. Is it a fun summer read? A rumination on the transience of all things? A political pot-boiler? A murder mystery? These are things a good cover makes clear.

Another common error by self-published writers is having too much writing on the cover. You know those taglines that movies have, like ‘Alien’s memorable “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream?” Leave those to the movies. Big publishing houses don’t put taglines on the front of their books, and neither should you. If you really want a tagline, you can put it on the back cover, where the blurb goes; not on the front.

The front cover of a novel really only needs two pieces of text; the author’s name and the title. Sometimes a pull-quote from a favourable review might find its way there too, but be sparing. Also, if the book is in a series, it’s fine to mention that on the front. Murder mysteries seem particularly prone to this, often listing the main recurring character by name: “A Sluethy McSolve Mystery”. (Sluethy McSolve is the hard-boiled private detective/concert pianist I just invented, in case you were wondering.) This falls under the category of conveying to the reader what kind of book this is.

Simplicity is key; less here is definitely more. Consider the fact that the world’s biggest bookseller has no physical stores, only a website which will shrink your cover down to the resolution of a three-year-old’s drawing and display it as a 1 inch jpeg. The simpler a cover is, the better it will look in those conditions. (Up to a point, of course. The simplest cover is no cover at all, but that won’t sell many books.)

Scar: The story behind the cover

Throughout the process of publishing Scar, I’ve had quite a few people comment favourably on the cover. Not just friends of mine, either; even the folks at Createspace complimented me on it.

I wanted to keep it simple and stark. The tree comes from the mythological themes of the book; the tree has always been an archetypal image in mythologies throughout the world. Also, Scar is a book about family and the past; I felt the tree with its spreading roots was a good representation of that. The red was my girlfriend’s idea; it makes the cover much more striking, and also hints at the theme of blood, of family. The roots in the black soil also hint at the underworld, a major theme in the book being the psychological/mythological descent into the underworld of one’s psyche. That the upper branches of the tree suggest the human brain was a happy coincidence lost on me until my brother pointed it out.

I can’t draw worth a damn. But happily for me, and unhappily for them, artists are abundant, and cheap. There are as many people trying to break out into art as there are trying to write books, and in the meantime, many of them are happy to take on small jobs. I put an ad on craigslist looking for an artist, and got dozens of replies.  You can also explore deviantart.com to find someone whose style suits your book.

My cover was drawn by a Seattle artist named Michael Yakutis; he also drew comics of a few scenes from Scar for my website and advertising material. He’s talented, a real pleasure to work with and ridiculously reasonable; you can see more of his work at http://www.artifolio.com/artist/michaelyakutis888/.

There’s a lot about Scar that I’m proud of, and the cover is definitely one of those things. Every time I look at it, I feel a small swell of pride; that’s what a good cover can do.

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December 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

In the spirit of Christmas, I’ve decided to publish some of my short stories as free ebooks on Smashwords.com. The first two, ‘Life and Borges’ and ‘Sybil’ are available now. You can download them, in just about any ebook format, here:


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