Out of the Closet with Author Services

For the past decade, I’ve been an editor first and foremost. My ideal is to help authors make their storylines sing and their characters so three-dimensional, they practically leap off the page. I also aim to smooth out my clients’ dishevelled sentences and slim down their bloated prose. I nitpick to make sure the wrong words aren’t capitalized and the quotation marks are turned the right way around and are consistently curly (or straight, if you prefer). Like most editors I know, my editing work runs the gamut from the big-picture stuff to the finest details. But lately, I’ve been doing more than editing.

As the years have flown by, more and more authors have turned to me to help them promote their books, and I’ve found myself writing for them. I admit, I fell into this–it wasn’t something I actively pursued. Initially, I lacked confidence in my ability to help, but I’ve gained a lot of experience and received plenty of positive feedback from clients about what I’ve written for them.  As I’ve gained self-assurance, I’ve discovered that I love the challenge of this work. And it’s so gratifying to have another way, besides editing, of helping my clients realize their publishing dreams. Until now I’ve been quiet about my writing work, but I’m declaring myself out of the closet. Loudly and proudly, I’m officially adding Author Services to my bag of tricks!

For those of you wondering what writing services for authors I offer, here’s a brief rundown:

Back-cover Blurbs. You’re self-publishing and need a catchy blurb that will hook potential readers emotionally and convey your novel in a nutshell–without giving too much away, of course. Writing a good blurb always gives me a delicious thrill (I’m funny that way), and I love the opportunity to use my words to move people to read your book.

Note: “Blurb” in this case does not refer to critical reviews that may appear on your book’s cover.  It’s unethical to write these for an author when I have worked on their book.

Query Letters. You’re trying to pitch your short story to a magazine or your novel to an agent or publisher and don’t know to tackle the all-important query letter. I’ll craft a concise one that will cover everything it needs to and help get you noticed.

Chapter Summaries. You’ve been asked by a publisher to submit succinct chapter summaries, but you feel much too close to your work and can’t find the forest for the trees. Using vigorous, engaging writing, I’ll zero in on the essential plot threads in each chapter.

Synopses. Boiling a novel down to five or six hundred words is a task most writers dread, and with good reason–it’s tough work, especially when it’s your baby. Your synopsis can’t read like a dull, mechanical account of events; a good one tells your story but in a lively, colourful way. I can help.

Biographies. Whether it’s for the back cover of your book or for your website, tell me about yourself and I’ll help you, Mr. or Ms. Author, present yourself in the most flattering light.

Although I’m delighted to write any of the above, I will edit your versions if you’d prefer. Whether I’m starting from scratch or simply polishing your existing material, we’ll work together to create the best blurbs, query letters, summaries, synopses, and biographies we possibly can.

 

Bullets, Blood and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldier

The new year has already brought me a much-needed change in residence, and with it, a steady improvement in my health and a renewed desire to get back to work on my editing and writing projects, including blogging. In the coming months, I’ll be writing more about editing and self-publishing, as well as featuring author interviews.

Profile portrait of Samburu boy wearing genuine tribal ornaments and ivory earplugs, Kenya

I introduce you now to author Donna White, whose novel Bullets, Blood and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldiervividly calls attention to the plight of child soldiers. To give you a little background, starting in 1987, rebel leader Joseph Kony displaced well over two million Ugandans from their villages and kidnapped, mutilated, and murdered tens of thousands of people. Among the victims were some sixty thousand children, who were recruited by Kony for his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to fight against the Ugandan government. Some of these children were as young as seven, and they were given no choice but to fight–it was kill or be killed. Kony’s reign of terror continued for about two decades. He was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2005, but has managed to evade capture.

Recently, I spoke to Donna about Bullets, Blood and Stones.

CK: I know that you visited Uganda a few years ago. Can you tell me what took you there in the first place? Was the idea for a book about child soldiers already forming in your mind at the time, or was there some other reason for going?

DW: Yes, the idea for the novel was already brewing in my mind before I headed to Uganda in 2008. I had a general feel for the storyline, but I knew I had to go to Uganda and see these children and take in everything, the culture, the food, the land, and the people, for my book to have any substance. But it wasn’t until I met Charlie and heard his story that I knew what the true essence of the book would be.

After I wrote book one, I knew the story couldn’t end there so I travelled to Uganda again in 2015, this time focusing on the rehabilitation process of former child soldiers and taking in a safari so I could incorporate more of Uganda’s natural habitat into the book.

CK: As part of your research for Bullets, Blood and Stones, you actually spoke to former child soldiers. What was hearing their stories like for you? 

DW: Before I went to Uganda I tried to mentally prepare myself for these interviews. I knew the stories would be difficult to hear so I read and watched interviews online just to get an idea of what I was going to come upon. It was still difficult. There were times I had to stop and just sob in the middle of an interview. I couldn’t fathom the horror that occurred in these people’s lives. I didn’t want to. I have some stories written in my journal that are too awful to repeat. I haven’t shared them with anyone. I don’t know if I ever will.

CK: Would you say that Uganda is truly recovering from two decades of devastation wreaked by Kony? What signs of recovery have you seen?

DW: Oh, yes. Northern Uganda has been recovering since Kony left. The people are back to their land and have rebuilt their schools and houses. During my first visit I witnessed World Vision providing people with seedlings and livestock to help them get back on their feet again. It was lovely to see. On a whole, I think the former child soldiers are doing better. But it is a day-by-day sort of thing. It takes time. They suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and  must deal with the stigma that is attached to them. Some people still don’t trust them, and some families and communities have banned them from returning to their villages. So yes, there is change, but it will take time.

CK: The novel is intended for young adult readers, and I feel you’ve succeeded in making a difficult topic appealing to that age group–not an easy task. Can you tell me what qualities your book has that will entice young people to read it? 

DW: I’ve had young adult readers tell me that the book is really fast paced and is a real page-turner. So much that they’ve stayed up late into the night wanting to finish it. Even teachers have told me their classes groan when they’re told they have to stop at a certain chapter before they can continue on the next day. But I’ve also heard kids tell me that they love the “emotional roller coaster” it takes them on. One moment they’re sad, the next they’re laughing, and the next they’re shaking their fists. I like to hear that. Others have said they feel like they’re right in Uganda during the story because the imagery is so intense. And others have said they like it because “it’s real”. The violence is real. It really happened and they appreciate a story that tells it as it is and doesn’t sugar-coat it.

CK: What do you hope readers will ultimately take away from this book?

DW: I hope they’ll take away a number of things. One, of course, is a stronger social conscience. To challenge the way they view themselves and their place in society. To look beyond their borders and see what is going on in the world. But I hope it doesn’t end there. An understanding of world events doesn’t bring about change. Only a desire and a passion to make the world a better place does. I hope that after readers close the book they set out to instill peace in their own lives and to help others who because of war, prejudice, or other circumstances desperately need it.

CK: What can Canadians do to help child soldiers around the world? 

DW: Tough question, because in cases like this we can feel quite helpless. But we can make a difference by supporting programs with humanitarian organizations that are successful in bringing children, families, and communities out of poverty. When people are poor they will do desperate things, like selling their children to rebel groups, just to put much needed food into their bellies.

Another thing we can do is support an organization that helps with the restoration and reintegration of child soldiers. During my stay in Uganda, I saw many wonderful things happening with these young boys and girls who had escaped from the LRA. Through the rehabilitation programs thousands of children were given medical attention and counselling, and reunited with their families and reintegrated into their communities. This was all done through the hard work of World Vision workers and volunteers, whose commitment to helping these children was phenomenal. World Vision also works in countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan to help these exploited children.

CK: I understand that Bullets, Blood and Stones is the first in a trilogy. What can you tell us at this stage about book two? 

DW: Ah, book two! After I wrote Bullets and I returned to Uganda, I realized that Charlie’s story hadn’t ended yet. Although his body was free from Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, his mind was not. All of the children who escape from the horrors of being a child soldier suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Uganda the Acholi people call it ajiji. And that’s what book two is about –Charlie’s ajiji and his attempts to free his mind from the flashbacks that come to him during the day and the nightmares that shake him awake at night. I also introduce the reader to another facet of child soldiers: the use of girls as soldiers and sex slaves in the LRA. It’s another intense read.

***

Donna’s stories may be intense, but they’re laced with hope as well. Her novel, Blood, Bullets and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldier, is available on Amazon.ca.

Edging Toward Normalcy: The Healing Continues

It’s been half a year since I last blogged about my struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and perhaps some of you are wondering whether my situation has improved or whether I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. Yes, I’m still alive and kicking and still very much in the editing game. This fall I completed two 100,000+-word novels without wearing myself out (it really helped that both books were well written and thoroughly absorbing, and their talented authors lovely to deal with). Six months ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking on such lengthy projects.

I continue to pull myself up from the depths of CFS after having been mired in it for a good couple of years (see previous post for a taste of what having this illness is like). In an early-morning burst of optimism, I nearly called this blog post “Hurtling Toward Normalcy,” but the reality is that my progress has been a steady stroll instead of anything as dramatic as hurtling. So “edging” seemed more accurate.

One day last week, I realized how amazingly close to normal I was feeling. I was lunching with a friend in a place with a small-town diner feel. It was busy–lots of people, lots of animated conversations going on around us. All that stimulation usually exerts a powerful effect on my nervous system, and I feel over-the-top wired, as if I’m buzzing inside. The sensation is anxiety-provoking–I just want to flee to quieter quarters–and exhausting. You see, with CFS your nervous system is already stuck in fight-or-flight mode, so any added stimulation easily overwhelms you.  Lights seem too bright, sounds too loud, and you feel these sensations wearing at you, draining away your energy. This aspect of CFS is one reason I’ve socialized only rarely over the last couple of years; it’s just too difficult. But last week in the restaurant, I felt calm and relaxed and barely noticed the presence of all the other people around me. It was a breakthrough moment, and I took the time to savour this victory. I’m still celebrating it.

Overall, I’ve started to feel physically stronger, especially in the last couple of months. What can I attribute the improvements to? In August I began a healing program, ANS Rewire, that’s specially designed for people with CFS/fibromyalgia. It’s based on the premise that both these illnesses are rooted in a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and that correcting this dysfunction eliminates the symptoms and restores our health. The man who developed the program, Dan Neuffer, is a physicist who became ill with severe CFS/fibromyalgia and was determined to get well again. He applied his talents for scientific research and discovered that the symptoms of these illnesses pointed to an unbalanced autonomic nervous system that flip-flops erratically from one extreme to another in attempts to find equilibrium. Searching for a solution, Dan was led to the concept of neuroplasticity and developed a technique for rewiring the brain to create new neural pathways to replace the old ones that maintain the ANS dysfunction and therefore our illness. The rewiring technique, or neural retraining, is one of the pillars of Dan’s program, but he also includes many supportive strategies. Indeed, ANS Rewire is the most comprehensive neural retraining program I’ve seen, as apart from the central rewiring technique Dan teaches mindfulness meditation to bring down brain arousal and includes strategies to improve nutrition and sleep and cope with pain. As well, he addresses how to use exercise–perhaps the biggest bugbear to those of us with CFS/fibromyalgia–to steer us toward recovery. Because of ANS Rewire, I began to view my illness differently, realizing I could impact it through how I thought of it and myself and how I acted every single day. Dan’s program has put me in the driver’s seat.

Even with such powerful and easy-to-use tools at my disposal, a robust recovery doesn’t happen overnight, and I’m still inching my way there. But I’m participating more fully in my life again and feel less isolated than I used to. In September, just a few days after completing ANS Rewire, I attended my aunt’s ninetieth birthday party out of town, and despite challenging moments during the trip and exhaustion afterwards I bounced back more quickly than I imagined I would. In November I started attending a gentle exercise class, Feldenkrais, which enhances body awareness–a key component of the rewiring process. And things just keep getting better: early in the new year, we’ll be moving to another apartment–one that’s smaller, cheaper, brighter, and free of the mould that’s plagued one of the bathrooms in our present apartment. Six months ago, I couldn’t even contemplate moving because I didn’t have the strength to sort through all my possessions, let alone pack anything.

It’s been a tough road to travel, and although I’m not where I ultimately want to be, my destination is beginning to feel as if it’s right around the corner.

 

A Different Kind of Tired

I’ve written the following post to recognize International Awareness Day for ME/CFS, and dedicate it to all my courageous friends who struggle every day with CFS. 

CFS

Anyone who visits this site regularly will have noticed a dwindling of blog posts over the last couple of years. I’ve never thought of myself as a blogger–I lack the dedication. But more than that, I’m mostly too tired to blog. If it sounds like a lame excuse, it’s not. I have an illness called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME for short).

“Yeah, I’m tired a lot too,” I can almost hear some readers saying, though I know that wouldn’t be you. Allow me to be perfectly clear: CFS involves a different kind of tired. What sets it apart from everyday tiredness is that we, people with CFS, don’t recover our energy and strength after a good night’s sleep (which, paradoxically, is difficult for us to obtain). One of the defining characteristics of the syndrome is exertion intolerance. Instead of feeling invigorated by exercise, it drains us, and for long periods (so please don’t tell us we need to exercise more). Recently, it took me three weeks to recover from a three-hour lunch and shopping outing. This hallmark of the illness, exertion intolerance, has spawned a whole new name for CFS, systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), a moniker that hasn’t really caught on yet even though it more accurately captures the complex nature of the illness than “chronic fatigue syndrome” does.

CFS is also about so much more than being tired. Apart from exertion intolerance, a host of other symptoms afflict us. My symptoms include persistent muscle pain and weakness, unrefreshing sleep, and light-headedness. The combination of symptoms we experience can knock us flat; approximately a quarter of us are bedridden for months, sometimes years. The rest of us limp through our days feeling  debilitated but somehow managing to live half a life. Someone’s pulled the plug on us, and the outlet is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes we slide into CFS gradually, but often the onset is dramatic, preceded by a virus or a traumatic event like an accident. For me it was a virus, and I remember all too vividly the exact day–March 27, 1998–when CFS disconnected me from my power source. After a couple of years, it gradually went into remission, and for several years I enjoyed good health. Unfortunately, it re-emerged in 2014, following a period of intense work during which I was writing a novel in addition to taking on too many editing projects.

I’m managing half a life now–on good days, three-quarters. Even with my Jell-O legs, I can go for a walk with the dog once a day; I’m up to forty-five minutes reliably and sometimes make it to an hour. Occasionally, I’ll take public transit for a short jaunt somewhere. I still work as a freelance editor. If I take at least three horizontal rest breaks during the day, I can work at the computer for three,  sometimes four hours a day without completely burning myself out. Although my world has narrowed because of CFS,  I’m doing better than I was a few months ago and am sure I’ll continue to improve.

There are scores of people out there with this illness–some 400,000 in Canada, at least a million in the US, and 250,000 in the UK (and these numbers are on the conservative side).  More of us are female than male. CFS can hit at any age. I was thirty-four when I was diagnosed with it, but I’m alarmed to see how often it strikes young people who are only just starting to find their way in life.

Sadly, CFS is often a wholesale wrecker of lives; careers and relationships can be destroyed by this illness, which may be misunderstood by those around us. We look perfectly healthy and sometimes encounter skepticism from our friends and families. To the ignorant, we may appear bone-lazy, but many of us previously led active lives and had a strong achievement orientation, a tendency that, if continued, perpetuates our condition. The lack of sensitivity and support from others is hurtful and isolating for those with CFS.

Some doctors are skeptical too, but those who don’t dismiss our illness often don’t know how to help us because CFS is so challenging to treat. They commonly prescribe cognitive behavioural therapy, graded exercise, or symptomatic relief in the form of antidepressants and sleep aids. These measures often don’t get at the root of the illness and may even set us back (our bodies are very sensitive to medications, and exercise programs are something we should undertake with the utmost caution). Many of us find some relief in alternative remedies. For me, a good naturopath is essential, but I’ve had bad ones who have made me feel worse.

I paint a bleak picture, but at the same time I’m optimistic. Why? Because it’s entirely possible to recover from CFS; I put it into remission once before and expect I can do it again. I’ve also read countless recovery stories in which people go on to lead active lives. But there is no easy or universal solution for those of us with CFS; we must each find our own recovery path. Nonetheless, it’s possible to make a few generalizations about what helps.

Because we usually have food sensitivities, we tend to improve by cutting out dairy, gluten, and other harmful foods (once we are tested to determine the culprits). It’s also essential to find a way of calming down our nervous systems, which get stuck in a fight-or-flight response. Calming is a prerequisite to being able to heal, as I learned in the excellent online program, Secrets to Recovery. I use guided meditation and visualization daily to achieve this calming effect. Avoiding stress is critical for people with CFS, as it causes flare-ups of the illness. There’s no question in my mind that experiencing both a concussion and horrible side effects from  adrenal supplements I was prescribed last year greatly exacerbated my CFS. We must carve out tranquil time in each day to rest and devote ourselves to getting better. Pacing ourselves and not pushing beyond our activity limit is also vital to our recovery. Determining precisely where that limit is can be frustrating; it often seems like a moving target, and inevitably we exceed it at times.

I’ve also benefited from IV nutrients such as Myers’ cocktails (no, they don’t contain alcohol or come in a martini glass) and Bach flower remedies. Supporting our recovery often requires solutions outside the mainstream, and for me these unorthodox remedies have had positive results. As people with CFS, we each have our own list of what’s most effective for us. Certainly we can heal, but doing so takes compassion for ourselves, time, patience, and–perhaps more than anything–a generous helping of hope.

 

New Book Release: Eaten by Susan J. Crockford

EATEN

Polar bears may look adorable and cuddly on greeting cards, but as I learned from reading Susan J. Crockford’s debut novel Eaten, you really don’t want to encounter one of these fearsome predators in the wild. In the book, Crockford, who is a polar bear scientist, explores a frightening scenario: an invasion of the bears in the remote outports of northern Newfoundland. Recently, I spoke to Susan about her book.

CK: Eaten is a unique thriller liberally laced with polar bear science. What sort of reader did you write the book for?

SC: I wrote the book for people who love a good story first and foremost but who don’t mind learning a thing or two in the process. I was aiming for a thriller that would give people nightmares–and I believe I succeeded.  The prospect of a bear attack fascinates people because it’s one of those primal fears. Animal predators (like bears, big cats, and wolves) still kill unarmed people every year, as they have done for hundreds of thousands of years.  Eaten taps into that primal fear and shows that even in the 21st century, we will not necessarily be safe from carnivorous predators.

CK: Your novel takes place in 2025 in Newfoundland, where ravenous bears are killing and eating humans. How likely do you think it is that this dire scenario could come true, and what would cause it?

SC: Based on my knowledge of seals, bears, and sea ice, I imagined where, when, and why polar bears might be forced ashore by hunger to prey effectively on humans. That dictated the location, the year, and the season of the story. Could it happen? Absolutely. Will it happen? Not unless all of the variables fall into place as I’ve described: if only some do but not others, there would be another outcome. Two of the variables are very high population numbers of harp seals (already achieved) and of polar bears (in progress).

CK: You’re a professional zoologist who’s studied polar bear ecology and evolution for more than twenty years. You also blog about polar bears.  You know these beasts inside out, in a way few of us ever can. As your book pointed out, many people have misconceptions about them. What would you most like people to know about polar bears?

SC: That late winter through spring (March to June) is the most critical to polar bear survival because this is when the bears feed intensively on young Arctic seals. Polar bears eat eight months’ worth of food during this time. After months without food over the winter, bears are at their leanest and hungriest in early spring and this makes them especially dangerous predators at that time because they are highly motivated to find the food they need. See this recent blog post, Hungry polar bear attacks: Why my novel “Eaten” is set in early March.

CK: Turning from science writing to fiction seems like quite a leap. What was your impetus for writing Eaten, and what was the process like for you?

SC: I come from a family of storytellers and I think that helped considerably. When I found myself in a position where I could do nothing but write for several months, my original thought was to turn my polar bear blog posts into a science book. But then it occurred to me that a more valuable contribution would be to write something for people who would never read a science book. I realized that a good fictional story based on science might be far more popular and inform a wider audience than another dry science tome (however well written it might be).

I enjoyed writing this story more than I expected and found it was not as hard to switch genres as I’d feared.  It was comforting to know that a good fiction editor could help me over the transition, especially in writing dialogue and getting point of view consistent. I knew I’d need that help and budgeted for it, which gave me the confidence to just write. My sister, who’s an avid fiction reader, gave me some useful feedback on the first few drafts but after that, I was off. In the end, the professional editorial help made a huge difference and was worth every penny.

CK: Will you be writing more fiction, and if so, what do have planned?

SC: Oh yes, I’m hooked on fiction! I don’t think I’m done with Newfoundland polar bears quite yet. As well, other ideas just keep bubbling away in my brain, so I write them down as they come to me, hoping one of them might play out into a future story.

CK: You’ve just been through the self-publishing process with Eaten. Do you have any advice for writers who are contemplating self-publishing?

SC: I’ve actually done it twice now–once for a science book about evolution, Rhythms of Life: Thyroid Hormone and the Origin of Species, that got quiet rave reviews but didn’t sell particularly well (although probably better than other self-published books in that genre). I may have just covered the cost of publishing that book but certainly not enough to reimburse myself for the time it took me to write it. That was disappointing but probably predictable.

I’m hoping a fiction book might be more popular and a better seller. As a virgin fiction author, I had virtually no hope of finding an agent to represent me to a conventional publisher, so I didn’t waste my time looking. Self-publishing takes more author-generated marketing effort, but I knew that going into this project. Having the blog already established has given me a bit of a leg up, not just because of the people who read the blog but the people I’ve met over the last three years who will help get sales going. Time will tell but early sales are encouraging. So I guess if I had one piece of advice, that might be it: have a solid, on-line presence before you start, so that you can use it to help get early sales going.

Eaten is available at Amazon.com. Also see the book trailer, Susan’s blog, Polar Bear Science, and her website.

 

One Approach to Creating a Facebook Author Page

When I was writing my novel Virginia’s Ghost and already thinking of ways to promote it, I felt intimidated by the notion of a Facebook author page. What would I post? I perused other author pages and noticed lots of posts on upcoming public appearances and detailed notes about the progress of books. That seemed all very well for high-profile authors with an established following, but no one knew who I was, so why would anybody give a fig if I announced I was on page 47 of my second draft?

Realizing my self-confidence was crumbling from dwelling on what the literary luminaries were doing, I resolved to find my own strategy. As a new and unknown author, I had to. I decided to focus on drawing people into the various themes of my book, which include antiques, auctions, the 1920s, art deco style, flappers, historical Toronto, and ghosts. I hoped that by posting little informative and entertaining tidbits on these themes–accompanied by appetizing visuals–I would arouse curiosity about the world represented in my novel.

Sometimes I deliberately made the connection for people between the images I posted and Virginia’s Ghost, but often not.  I didn’t want the page to always be about my book, as I thought other people would find this narrow focus pretty tedious. And I especially didn’t want the page to become a platform for blatant self-promotion. I’ve seen far too many tiresome Facebook author pages that hammer people with one message: “Buy my book!!!” This looks amateurish (especially with all those exclamation marks), and my reaction to it is usually “No thanks.”

But because it was an author page, I obviously wasn’t going to neglect the subject of my book altogether, so I did and still do include posts about Virginia’s Ghost. When my book was in production (yes, I started a Facebook page months before I published), I posted the cover image and gave a few updates on how things were going during the design and proofreading processes. Now and then I post excerpts from the novel that are illustrated with some particularly appropriate image, or I chat briefly about where I’m at with the sequel. On rare occasions, I do some sort of giveaway that again puts my book briefly in the spotlight.

What I’m saying is that a wide variety of types of posts–a balanced approach–is critical to creating an interesting page. Personally, I prefer just a dab of promotion, and I like to be fairly understated about it. What I’m really keen on is connecting and engaging with people who like the same things I do because it’s just so much fun. I like being part of my own little tribe, and the bonus is that those who are in it might buy the book someday. But I don’t want to push it on them.

I tend to post several times a week (daily if possible), and I always aim for high-quality content. When I really put a lot of effort into writing a post and finding that perfect accompanying image, more people like and comment on it.  A thoughtful post also consistently reaches a lot more people (for those who don’t know, Facebook informs you about how many people you’ve reached with each post). If you’re lazy and simply repost links to articles that have been making the rounds, especially without giving much additional commentary, you likely won’t receive much of a response. Effort and originality go a long way.

You can increase your followers by sharing your posts with like-minded Facebook groups. One of my favourites is Flappers and Bootleggers, a delightful group of people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about anything related to the 1920s. By posting art deco-era fashions and collectibles to this page, I have managed to acquire numerous new Facebook fans, many of whom regularly like and comment on my posts.

What I don’t recommend is succumbing to the allure of Facebook ads to attract new followers. I advertised for a week shortly after I launched my book last September, and while I did acquire the set number of new likes that Facebook had promised me (fancy that), few of the “likers” seemed legitimate. I don’t recall any of these people commenting on my posts, and when I looked at their profile pages, I found it impossible to imagine that they were the sort to be interested in my book. Where Facebook found these people is open to question, but my belief is that most of the likers had dormant accounts. It’s tempting to want to build your numbers quickly and easily through a Facebook ad, but you’re better off being patient and regularly offering compelling content that attracts the right people–the audience for your book.

Once you publish, countless people will come out of the woodwork to offer to take your money and help you flog your new book. The advantage of a Facebook author page is that it’s one of the few promotional activities you can do for free. It’s worth your while to put considerable effort into reaching your audience with a well-thought-out page. Don’t be afraid to express your unique personality through what you post, and don’t be intimidated by the process of creating a page. If you’re anything like me, you’ll ultimately come to see your Facebook page as a labour of love and have plenty of fun working on it. Enjoy the adventure!

Should Freelancers Get Disability and Fracture Insurance?

Should freelance editors and writers obtain disability and fracture insurance? Especially if you’re young, healthy, and apparently invincible, you may feel these types of insurance are just not worth spending your hard-earned dollars on. After all, you’re hardly likely to injure yourself while you’re typing at your computer, and what are the odds you’ll be in a car accident or have a serious slip and fall that will prevent you from working?  Most of us assume that the odds of suffering a serious injury are remote. But what would you do if you couldn’t work for a period of time? Would you have enough money in the bank to tide you over for a few weeks, months, or even longer?

Getting disability and fracture insurance made enormous sense to me, and here’s why. Over the years I’ve broken a total of four bones, torn two ligaments, and concussed myself once.  As a friend of mine joked, some people get all the breaks. Here’s the rundown of injuries. I fractured my tibia and tore two ligaments in my knee when I was twenty-nine from a fall on the ice while walking a dog.  My second break was at age forty, when I stepped off a cobblestone curb in Montreal and fractured my fifth metatarsal (the plane ride home was loads of fun). Almost exactly a year later, while I was preparing to hold a contents sale, I dropped a sliding door on my big toe, breaking it too (I finished the sale, though).  Break number four occurred on January 7th of this year, when I broke my left wrist after another fall on the ice while walking another dog.  I’m now 51. What made this fall especially nasty was that I hit my head and concussed myself, resulting in several weeks of post-concussion syndrome (PCS). For those who don’t know, PCS results in severe fatigue, weakness, poor balance, difficulty concentrating, extreme sensitivity to stimuli, nausea, and lousy sleep (and this list of symptoms is by no means exhaustive). Resting your brain in a quiet, dark environment is one of the most important things you can do to aid your own healing.

 

My bejewelled wrist cast in January
My bejewelled cast in January.

 

I emphasize that I was not engaging in anything resembling risky behaviour when these accidents occurred, and that I am not a senior citizen and do not have osteoporosis. I am just extraordinarily accident-prone.  You probably aren’t an expert in bone-breaking and head-knocking the way I am, but you could still suffer an accident, and one that could put you out of commission for some time.

Between the broken wrist and the concussion, I was unable to work at all for seven weeks. Over the past month and a half, I have gradually increased the amount of time I can work at the computer and am approaching pre-accident levels. But when my fall first occurred, I lost clients who were unable to wait for me to get better (I also kept some who could). Fortunately, I had been approved for two types of insurance, disability and fracture, just five weeks before my fall, and the benefits I received kept me afloat.

How did I know which insurance company to choose and which level of coverage I needed? I had a meeting with my financial advisor of fourteen years; he shopped around for an appropriate policy for me. I note here that these types of insurance are easy for freelance editors and writers to obtain because our work is sedentary, involving little physical risk. And acceptance doesn’t depend on being robustly healthy to begin with; anyone in any sort of physical condition can have an accident. We explored my options for disability insurance, which would partially replace lost income monthly should I have an accident. How much money would I need to cover my expenses each month (I decided to opt for a maximum benefit of $1,500), and what could I afford in terms of monthly premiums? Fracture insurance was an add-on to the disability insurance and available at two levels of coverage. I decided to choose the one that would pay out a higher lump sum if I broke something. Total monthly premium for both disability and fracture insurance: $67.25.

After making a claim, I promptly received a lump sum payment for the fracture plus a monthly disability benefit. The initial disability payment worked out to 75 percent of my average monthly income over the past year. When I notified my case manager of my increased work hours, the monthly payment was adjusted downward.

Disability and fracture insurance has allowed me to recover from my injuries without having to fret unduly about paying my bills. It also allowed me the luxury of things like taxi rides to the fracture clinic and other medical appointments, as well as laser treatments and physiotherapy. Frankly, I don’t think I can afford to be without it.

 

Should Authors Participate in Book Giveaways?

In the two months since I’ve published Virginia’s Ghost, I’ve been racking my brains as to how I can best promote it. It’s easy to garner interest in the book from friends and casual neighbourhood acquaintances, and I confess I haven’t found it a stretch to sell hard copies in person to folks I barely know. But online sales are a whole different matter. I mentioned to someone recently that as a first-time self-published author, I’m as invisible on the World Wide Web as a minnow would be in a vast ocean. So how can I become a bigger fish?

Other writers I know have suggested book giveaways. I balked at this initially–would I irreparably cheapen my book by giving it away for nothing? A big voice told me that I would, but feeling desperate for some sort of attention, I overcame my reservations and took the giveaway plunge. I’ve now done a total of three giveaways, with mixed results. Let’s take a closer look at these.

Facebook

For my Facebook giveaway, I told my fans that in order to enter, they had to comment on my giveaway post. Each time they wrote a comment, their name would be entered into the draw, What I liked about this approach was that it engendered lively discussion on my Facebook author page, which is of course something I wish to encourage.  People asked questions about me and my book. And a Facebook giveaway is a lovely way to thank your fans for their support. I gave away one copy, which happened to go to a real-life acquaintance of mine who was very appreciative. I don’t think I sold any books as a result of the giveaway, but I didn’t really expect to. For my efforts, I did receive some psychic pay–a nice glow from all the enthusiasm people expressed. And it only cost me about $15 to do (my cost for the book and the postage).

Goodreads

Every author wants a high profile on Goodreads, as next to Amazon, it’s the go-to site for reader reviews. So it makes sense to participate in Goodreads discussion groups to make your presence known and to do a giveaway to get the word out that you’ve written a book. I opted for a giveaway that ran for about six weeks, and at the end of that period, I gave away three paperback copies of my book. It was a tremendously exhilarating process; by the end of the giveaway, 1,265 people had signed up for the chance to win a free signed copy. The number was higher than I expected and made me feel almost ridiculously popular (more psychic pay). But the apparent enthusiasm for the book also contributed to my expectation that I was probably going to sell lots of copies, which didn’t happen. You see, lots of Goodreads members are pretty indiscriminate about which giveaways they sign up for–they simply “collect” giveaways. Once the giveaway is over with, they’ve probably forgotten all about your book or that they even wanted a copy of it in the first place. As for the three people who received the book, I’m hopeful that I may still receive a review or two in return for the freebie. My cost? About $45 (for three books and postage).

Story Cartel 

Story Cartel is a site that specifically encourages reviews from readers who receive a free download of your book. For the cost of $30 USD, the book appears on the Story Cartel site, where it can be downloaded gratis for twenty-one days. (After the download period ends, Story Cartel then displays your book on their site for another week.) Spend an additional $125 USD and your book will appear in a newsletter that circulates to subscribers. I decided on the newsletter exposure, and a total of sixty-seven people downloaded my book. After participating in Story Cartel, I have received a total of seven reviews on Amazon from people who downloaded it from the site, and some of these reviewers also posted to Goodreads. I expect I may receive additional reviews from people who are still reading the book . If you want to quickly populate your Amazon listing with reviews, then Story Cartel is a good option for you. Total cost: $155 USD.

***

My advice for authors who decide to go the giveaway route is to keep your expectations extremely modest or you will end up disappointed. Yes, giveaways do generate some interest in your book, but that interest is very fleeting and doesn’t necessary translate into sales or reviews.  You should view giveaways as only a small portion of your overall book marketing plan.

 

 

 

Virginia’s Ghost Released in E-book Form

For the past month, I’ve been rolling out Virginia’s Ghost in its various forms. The paperback was released on Amazon.com on September 11th, and the Kindle followed ten days later.

I know that many of you have been asking when the EPUB version of the book would be available, so I’m pleased to announce that it’s now here! I checked last night, and Virginia’s Ghost has just appeared on Kobo and Barnes and Noble. The links in this post will, of course, take you directly to the book. But for fun, you can search the title on these sites and see the plethora of books that have been written about ghosts in Virginia. Who knew?

Canadian readers will also want to know that, three weeks after its release, the paperback version is finally available on Amazon.ca. This puts an end to my frustration over Amazon’s strange distribution methods. It’s still funny to me that a Canadian author’s book would be available in the UK, France, and Germany before it’s available in Canada!

 

Virginia’s Ghost Now Available

A lazy autumn afternoon is the perfect time to make a cuppa, curl up with your favourite canine or feline, and immerse yourself in a novel, so I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve just released my cozy mystery, Virginia’s Ghost. This tale of ghastly crime, euphoric love, and devastating betrayal has now arrived! Virginia’s Ghost transports readers from a hectic contemporary auction house to the posh world of Toronto’s elite during the 1920s. The book features plucky heroine Virginia Blythe, who works at Gable & Co. Auctioneers, and her flapper ghost Constance, who mysteriously appears and gives Virginia her diary just before pandemonium descends on the auction house. I sincerely hope to provide you with some spine-tingling reading!

The book is now available in a glossy paperback edition, with e-book editions to follow soon–I’ll keep you posted as to when they’ve been released.  You can purchase Virginia’s Ghost through Amazon.com or CreateSpace.

Virginia's Ghost book cover