Formatting With Calibre

Formatting With Calibre

 

Guest Blogger, Marie Gage

Creating Your Own Ebook

Last week, guest blogger Marie Gage, walked us through the process of creating an ebook for sale on the Amazon platform. Today, she shares how to create ebooks that you can freely share on your own. And she explains why, after publishing through Amazon, she chose this additional step.

No strings attached

I recently started working with Prolific Works, a company that brings authors together to distribute free copies or previews of their books in group offers. To participate, I needed to produce an ebook file of the first three chapters of my novel, plus appropriate front and back matter. I couldn’t simply modify the file created through Amazon.

After searching with the wizardry of Google, I found my answer: Calibre makes it incredibly easy. Downloaded for free, Calibre is an open-source program. (They do appreciate it when you choose to support them through a voluntary donation.) Unlike Amazon’s program, Calibre does not offer the .drm (digital rights management protection) but does everything else with minimal effort. If you decide you need .drm, you can purchase it from any one of a number of vendors. But be prepared for the monthly fees.

NOTE: Calibre works best for files that do not have “fixed” elements. A fixed element is one that should not be moved around when readers change the size of text or the orientation of their ebook reader or app. All of my children’s books have fixed elements in the layout. So, I had to first turn each page into a JPG image before using Calibre. As a result, readers can’t adjust the text size on any of these ebooks.

Calibre screen shot: Opening screen

The process is easier for a book that is predominantly text. Follow along on the screen shots of the Calibre software.

After downloading the Calibre program:

  • press the Add Book button, find the Word file for your book and load it
  • press the Edit Metadata button and fill in the fields with appropriate information about the book
  • change the cover picture by uploading the cover file for your ebook

NOTE: Once you press the Edit Metadata button, add your key words in the box titled Tags (more about the importance of key words in last week’s post.) Separate each key word with a comma. Next. select Convert Books from the Calibre header.

Your screen will now look like this:

In the top right corner select the ebook format from the many listed formats to choose from. The most popular is .epub but you might want .mobi or .pdf.

  • EPUB is compatible with most ebook readers and analogue apps
  • MOBI is the format used exclusively by Amazon and is compatible with Kindle readers and apps
  • PDF is compatible with any PDF reader and is easily clicked and uploaded on most computers NOTE: without the ability to change text size and spacing on ereaders, PDF may not be ideal for a long book

Suffice it to say that readers will have their preferred reading device and you might consider offering your ebook in more than one format.

Trouble shooting tips

Take note of the options on the left-hand side of the screen if you experience problems with your first conversion attempt. You may find your text is not converting the way you want it to. The most likely additional choice to make would be to press the EPUB output button and choose either EPUB2 or EPUB3.  EPUB2 is still Calibre’s default so you must make a conscious choice if you want the upgraded format. EPUB3 is essentially an update to the sophistication of EPUB2. EPUB3 allows for easier navigation and some fancier elements such as embedded video.

Older ereaders don’t support the EPUB3 format. However, EPUB3 has been around since May 2010 and most readers will have upgraded their devices by now. For my novel, I didn’t require the EPUB3 so I used the default setting.

When you have made your output selection, press OK near the bottom right of the screen and you will see a circle begin to move around. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it as a big arrow comes up and bounces to show you where it is. When it stops, you can select a second format and press OK again and repeat until you have all the formats you want.

Press the click to open button and review your ebook file(s).

NOTE: You will need a program on your computer that is compatible with the file output chosen. For EPUB this is Adobe digital editions. For MOBI, this is the Kindle App on whatever device you use.

Picture this

One final, yet critical, cautionary note: Diagrams or pictures in your Word document must be downsized outside of the Word document. You can’t simply click and drag to change the size of an image; it won’t translate well into an ebook. Instead, use Photoshop or another photo editor program to change the actual size of the file to the appropriate dimensions for an ebook. All images must be no more than 800 pixels (px) tall by 550 px wide, which is the actual size of an ebook reader screen.  

I cannot tell you how many professionally created ebooks I have read, and I do mean from mainstream publishers, with images that cannot be seen on my ebook screen.

I used to believe the issue was the ebook format and there was nothing I could do about it. For my novel, I had two maps I wanted to include. Once more using the magic of Google, I found and followed the advice to resize images outside the Word file before converting the file to an ebook.

I couldn’t believe how clearly the maps showed.

If you wish to see how clear an image can be on an ebook reader, I invite you to read my novel.

Marie Gage lives and writes in beautiful Haliburton County, Ontario. Creative writing became a part of her life a during genealogical research that unearthed some tantalizing tidbits in her family history. She joined a memoir writing group, expecting to finish that one project and be on to the next interest.  Instead, she began to see everything as a story. In the past five years, she’s self-published numerous photo books, four children’s picture books and her debut novel, A Ring of Promises. Capturing her paternal grandparents’ transition as they immigrated to Canada from England and Scotland, her novel weaves the facts of their intriguing lives into a compelling story. 

Self-Publish Your Ebook

Self-Publish Your Ebook

It’s been our pleasure to work as editors with various writers, helping to refine and ready manuscripts for submission and/or publication. One of our clients, Marie Gage, is an indie author of four picture books and a recently released historical novel. In today’s guest blog, she shares her experience preparing her manuscripts for ebook and print publication with Amazon.

Guest blogger, Marie Gage

I wanted to offer readers both ebooks and print books, so I chose to create my books independently. I’ve used both Amazon and Calibre to format my material, but for today, I’ll focus on developing your ebook for sales through Amazon.

Creating an ebook is easy when you work with one of the websites that sell your book for you. Amazon offered me a relatively simple process to upload a word document and have it converted to a .mobi file, compatible with the Kindle reader and Kindle apps. My historical novel follows characters on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, so I liked that my book became available worldwide through Amazon (but you can choose to limit distribution of your book to specific regions.)

First things first

  • Before you can upload your file, create an account with Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s a bit more complicated than setting up most accounts because you need to input banking and tax information so they can pay you when your books sell. Notice I say “when”—I’m always the optimist. 
  • Fill in responses to a variety of questions such as “title” and “keywords.” Readers use keywords in the Amazon search box and it’s what Amazon uses to populate what customers are offered. You want your book associated with keywords that people use but are not so competitive as to result in your book never being shown. The keyword must also be relevant to what the customer sees in the description of your book. Using “Romance” for a cookbook will not bring you readers. Here’s a quick introductory course in how to choose keywords.

MARIE RECOMMENDS: Do the research about keywords before choosing the final title for your book. Consider adding a subtitle that strengthens your placement. Once you have published through Amazon, you can change the keywords but you cannot change the title on your ebook or print book. You can change the subtitle but ONLY on the ebook, not the print book. NOTE: Keywords in the title and subtitle have more impact on Amazon’s selection process than those in the form you complete before uploading your book.

Amazon allows more than one word in each of the keyword spaces and indexes them together and separately. For example: “Romantic” and “Comedy” when placed in the same box will be indexed alone as “Romantic” and “Comedy”, as well as together as “Romantic Comedy”. Thus you have a chance of being presented with any one of the three terms typed into the search box. However, it is not wise to flood these spaces with every possible word. You will annoy the Amazon staff, who check your work for relevancy, and may end up not indexing any of the words.

Next steps

  • Fill in the field for the book’s description. Put on your marketing hat and figure out what you want to say here that will attract the attention of the reading public. You want the description to be so intriguing that it will entice readers to click the “buy” button. What is the hook that makes your book special? Don’t rush this process. When you are sure it’s ready, remember to insert the basic HTML text formatting to note each paragraph end, as well as any italics and bolding. Otherwise, you’ll have one long paragraph with no italics or bolding.
  • Save and advance to the Kindle Ebook Content Page.  A major benefit of publishing on an already available sales platform is that digital rights management (a .drm suffix) can be added to decrease piracy of your ebook. The protection is not foolproof and there’s controversy about whether it’s necessary, but I feel better knowing it’s there. A major downside is that it may penalize purchasers who wish to transfer their purchase to another device. NOTE: On Amazon you have to press the correct button to turn on this function. Once the book is published you are not permitted to change this selection.
  • Decide if you want an ISBN. You do not need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for an ebook on Amazon, but if you have one and wish to use it you can input it. Canadians can obtain one through Library and Archives Canada and there’s no charge. NOTE: You cannot reuse an ISBN from a book you’ve already published elsewhere. Also, print and ebook formats will need separate numbers. 

Getting closer…

  • Upload the file of the interior of your book and a separate file with the cover. Make sure you have a cover that will be noticed among all the others on the page and is consistent with the genre of your book. Launch the previewer, check it carefully and press APPROVE. Or more likely, go back to your original file, correct the errors and repeat the approval process until it is perfect. 
  • Press APPROVE and advance to the Kindle Ebook Pricing page. You will be asked to make decisions about the price. The system will suggest a price based on what it considers to be “other similar ebooks”. The final decision is yours.
  • Choose a compensation package. The options depend upon exclusivity of your book to Amazon. If you wish to have it added to the Kindle Select program, you give Amazon exclusivity for the ebook only. Note the delivery charge that Amazon subtracts from your royalty. It’s often quite small but for picture books, the charge can eat up most of your profit. The only way to decrease the cost of delivery charges for picture books is to decrease the size of the file. See this article for instructions on this process as it relates to picture-intensive ebooks.

And…voila!

  • After completing the process you will be prompted to upload a print book or associate a print book with the ebook. It will take up to 72 hours before you get the email saying your book is live on Amazon and it can take a week or more before it is live in all markets. 

Next time, I’ll share my experience of creating ebooks without depending on an ebook sales platform. Books you create on Amazon or similar sites are not yours to distribute as you choose and there are times when you need to have that freedom.

Marie Gage lives and writes in beautiful Haliburton County, Ontario. Creative writing became a part of her life a during genealogical research that unearthed some tantalizing tidbits in her family history. She joined a memoir writing group, expecting to finish that one project and be on to the next interest.  Instead, she began to see everything as a story. In the past five years, she’s self-published numerous photo books, four children’s picture books and her debut novel, A Ring of Promises. Capturing her paternal grandparents’ transition as they immigrated to Canada from England and Scotland, her novel weaves the facts of their intriguing lives into a compelling story. 

Using Facebook to submit

Using Facebook to submit

Writescape’s summer contest is over, but for writers, the process of submitting is never over. We’ve noticed on Facebook, that Writescape Retreat alumnus Lisa Reynolds has been submitting relentlessly, and succeeding! Her poem “Midday in a Café” was accepted by the online literary journal, Loud Coffee Press, and her entry was chosen by PonderSavant.com for its One-liner Abound contest.

Not just that, but she has had works published or accepted by intriguing sources: groups that fight world hunger, or support women’s issues or an international online Berlin-based arts/cultural/politics magazine called The Wild Word.

So we asked her: How do you find all these interesting markets? How do you pick the ones that work for you?

Guest Blogger – Lisa Reynolds

I used to scan the internet for hours, trying to locate reputable contests, blogs, journals and other places to send my work. This strategy was not only draining but time consuming. I ended up submitting short stories and poetry I already had on file instead of writing fresh pieces which were more in line with the aesthetic and vision of the magazines, anthologies and online publications I sought publication in.  

When rejections came back, I knew I had to change things up before my self-confidence plummeted and I stopped submitting altogether.

This is when I decided to use Facebook as a resource to find submission options.

A Wise Decision

I’m happy to say it was a wise decision. In the past three months, ten of my works have been accepted for publication. Although I am no expert, I increased my chances of success with these five steps:

  • Join Facebook Groups

I am a member of Facebook groups that post poetry and writing contests. Some of these groups are Public while others are Private, requiring three to five basic questions be answered prior to acceptance.

Although I initially found the high number of members in these groups intimidating (for instance, the Calls for Submission Group has 65K private members), I didn’t let fear of competition deter me from joining. I focused on the positive, believing the popularity of these groups meant they were credible.

  • Be Selective

When perusing markets posted in these groups, I was able to quickly eliminate those that didn’t appeal to me because of the type of literary form, theme, requirements in terms of length, and/or deadline.

After saving my preferred choices in my Facebook portfolio, I created an Excel spreadsheet so I had a tangible list on hand. Then I focused my energies on reviewing the submission guidelines for each choice in detail.

  • Do Your Research    

Reducing my longlist of submission options to a manageable shortlist was easier than I expected.

With more time available to research past issues of magazines, read previous contest winners’ works and check out blog archives, I was able to determine whether my writing fit their preferred style and had a chance of being accepted.

  • Find Your Personal Fit

It wasn’t long before I noticed my selections gravitated towards certain publishers: those that published works that related to my themes of interest, particularly social justice.

This led to self-reflection and the realization that I wanted to write about issues that mattered to me. I wanted to be a small part of supporting charities, saving wildlife, fighting hunger, feeding the homeless, advocating for children and women in crisis, and other social justice issues. When I write about these issues, I believe my voice is sincere and authentic. Perhaps that is why they been have been chosen for publication.

  • Share with other writers

Having a target list of places to submit to and constant deadlines keeps me writing regularly. But for me, the most exciting part is the domino-effect of sharing. This mindset has helped me remain humble and committed to my writing practice.

I regularly post on my Facebook page to encourage others to submit, and I am overjoyed when I receive messages from writers saying, “Did you see this one?” It’s a wonderful feeling to share and celebrate our successes together.

Using Facebook as a resource to locate contests and other markets has worked for me. I hope it works for you too.

Below are a few links to groups that you may find helpful. Good luck!

Lisa Reynolds is a teacher, writer, and proud member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region, Ontario. Her poetry and short stories are published in several print and online publications. She lives in a waterfront community east of Toronto.

We’re in this together

We’re in this together

We love our local—and indeed all—independent bookstores, and we wondered how they were faring under the impact of COVID-19. We wanted to shine a light on how they were being innovative during these strange times and how you, our readers, could help them to keep the cash flow…flowing.

Shelley Macbeth

Jennifer Bogart

So, we spoke (virtually) to two of our favourite booksellers, Jennifer Bogart of Let’s Talk Books in Cobourg and Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge:

1.Can you describe an average day prior to COVID and an average day now.

Shelley:  There is no average day! Part of being an indie bookseller is your ability to be nimble and roll with whatever challenge is set in front of you.  Our days now involve working twice as hard as ever before for half the sales. And then at the end of an exhausting day jumping in your car to deliver all the books. With a jaunty cap and a smile.

Jennifer: Days used to involve customers browsing, and perhaps picking up a book or two. At lunch, a “rush” of downtown workers on break and an afternoon of receiving inventory, calling customers about their orders, and of course, helping customers with their book, gift or card selections in person.

Let’s Talk Books Storefront
at 25 King Street, Cobourg

Now that we’ve turned to delivery only, days start with filling orders—online, by email, or phone messages and a flurry of returning emails and phone calls, making sure to give each customer the time and care we would have given in store, and sometimes more. New inventory is still arriving and afternoons are spent making deliveries all over Northumberland County, and sometimes even a bit beyond. We’re busy because every sale takes three times longer than it did before. But the store is quiet, missing the light conversation of customers, the chit-chat about the books, and that personal connection we all crave.

2. What have you done to adapt?

Jennifer: Our biggest adaptation was opening our website for online orders and payments. It’s been a learning curve, but has helped tremendously with workflow.

Shelley: We’ve turned to e-commerce. The store acts as a fulfilment centre, from which Emily and I valiantly sally forth each day with deliveries hither and yon. 

Parker and Scarlet ready to help you at Let’s Talk Books

Both Jennifer and Shelley have turned more to social media. Jennifer posts what’s in the store and Shelley has done video chats roaming the store, showing books to customers and created in-store videos to show people the store offerings. She’s also created an “order on-line tutorial” for those not familiar with the website.

Shelley normally has regular author visits, so to adapt did a Facebook live storytime with one of the cancelled children’s authors. Shelley says, “We’ll have more of this upcoming — once we straighten out the AV part.  That’s the other thing— we’ve had to learn LOTS of new skills!”

Jennifer has switched in-store book clubs meetings virtual. “Our book clubs have all moved to video conferencing, which in itself was a challenge, but I think we have it figured out now. “

“We’re in this together”

Jennifer tells us she has been connecting with other independent bookstores to share resources, and direct customers to neighbouring towns for inventory she doesn’t have in stock.

Shelley has partnered with the neighbouring natural product/tea/coffee store to send out custom “Bridge Boxes” (short for Uxbridge) Boxes choc-a-block full of toys, games, puzzles and healthy treats.

Shelley has also created a “Trust Us” delivery for gifts. You give them the parameters and the $$ value (e.g. man, likes scifi/fantasy, woodworking and alternative rock – $60 budget) and they send an amazing box full of delights.

Shelley has several teachers who have agreed to help with video lessons using the store’s Canadian Curriculum notebooks.

Jennifer sums it up beautifully: “We’re not in competition with each other; we strive to support each other by sharing online events, videos, and encouraging each other in our endeavours. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see, as we come together to work as a community of booksellers.”

 3. To what extent has this affected your bottom line?

Shelley: The first few days we were holding our own as people rushed to buy things before everything shut down. Now there’s still a steady stream of orders but nowhere near a typical day at this time of year. But we will suffer mostly because we are a big event store and we have lost all the revenue from the season’s events. We have only one full-time employee — Emily — and she is definitely not laid off. The part-timers are all very understanding. For now. The landlord directed me to the government assistance site.

It’s been much the same for Jennifer: Because retail stores are not essential services, even though many consider books to be essential, I had to make some tough decisions. Sales are down because there is no foot traffic. Normally, I sell a lot of greeting cards—close to 30% of my business is cards and gifts, and these are items I select and purchase in advance, which means I’m out of pocket for items that don’t sell, unlike books that can be returned to the publisher.

To reduce costs, I laid off my part-time employees, but they know they will have jobs to come back to when we can reopen to foot traffic. I miss their input and their contributions. They are such an integral part of Let’s Talk Books, and I look forward to them returning to work as soon as it’s viable.

At this time, I don’t qualify for any of the small business loans set up by the banks and government, so I am doing what I can to continue selling inventory so that Cobourg and the surrounding area will continue to have the services of an independent bookstore.

4. What can readers do to help you and all independent bookstores through this?

Jennifer: Shopping local is key to the survival of any small town or independent business that doesn’t have access to the resources that big box stores do and can’t afford to offer huge discounts.

What we offer that they can’t, is a sense of community and belonging, giving each customer a unique shopping experience with care and concern. You’ll find more than books on our virtual shelves; you’ll find individuals who genuinely care about the members of their communities, who try to support their towns, and are working really hard to keep their businesses going in these strange times. Also – it’s safer to shop from home and have us deliver to your door.

Shelley: If you are ordering a book, game or puzzle, check us first.  We are quicker than Amazon (they have de-prioritized books); we are cleaner than Amazon — a two-person production rather than thousands of employees and—we wear a jaunty cap.

Meet our Booksellers

Blue Heron Books; Shelley Macbeth

62 Brock Street West, Uxbridge

Established in 1989, Blue Heron Books is more than a bookstore. It has twice been awarded Bookseller of the Year Canada and is the hub for all things cultural in the quaint town of Uxbridge and for its many satellite communities. The store services over 100 area schools and an astounding 27 book clubs. Known for its top-notch event series offered spring and fall, as well as the Book Drunkard Literary Festival annually at the end of October, and the numerous classes and programs for adults and children alike, Blue Heron Books offers something for everyone.

Website: www.blueheronbooks.com
Phone: 905-852-4282

Let’s Talk Books; Jennifer Bogart

25 King Street East, Cobourg

Founded in 2016, Let’s Talk Books is Cobourg’s only independent bookstore. In addition to new release books, you can find magazines, greeting cards, puzzles, and a selection of gifts. Special orders are always welcome if the book you are looking for isn’t in stock. The store offers four incredible book clubs, the details of which can be found on the website, and hosts authors, guest speakers, and workshops throughout the year. The store shopdogs, Parker and Scarlet, are usually on hand to greet customers, but you’re better off asking staff for help, as the dogs have limited tastes in reading material.

Write a book review

Write a book review

Gwynn Scheltema

Want to do something positive for writers during your time at home? Write a book review! Write a dozen reviews!

A 3/5 goodreads review of the book Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale popped up in my Facebook feed this week from a good friend and fellow writer and reader—and I took note. Why?

I took note, because I find her reviews aren’t like the endless run of promotional 5-star ratings for friends’ books that show up in my feed all the time: gushing reports awash with hyperbole and high praise.

Her reviews are honest and analytical. Even on a 3/5 rating she wrote about what was good. When it came to the aspects that didn’t work for her, she articulated it in that vein—not a trashing by a know-it-all, but considered comments from a genuine reader. She wrote about writing style, story and character problems and all of it couched in the knowledge that her reaction could be to do with what she brings from her own experience to the reading of the book.

So much brilliance: psychological excavations and gorgeous writing, worthy of pencil marks. But ultimately the story weighed me down with its onslaught of details—the kind of notes a diligent writer might keep in a binder called Character Profiles. I wouldn’t have minded had the details bound me to the characters, but in fact I closed the book feeling as though I never really knew anybody, or cared about them all that much..…the trauma that served as the main mystery to be solved over the course of the story, failed to live up to its billing. I suspect this has more to do with the frame of reference I personally bring to the reading room, than it has to do with the writer. Still….Glad to have read it, but left without an appetite for more.

I’m always encouraging writers to help other writers by writing reviews. But I think it’s important that they are meaningful reviews. A writer who reviews with all good intentions to help, but gives a 5-star rating to a book that doesn’t deserve it, diminishes all further reviews from that reviewer. It’s like giving a winning medal to someone who ran only half the course, negates the value of that same medal given to the real winner.

This excerpt from the same reviewer about the book Know my Name: a Memoir by Chanel Miller has me adding this book to my reading list—not just because it got 5 stars, but because it got 5 stars from a reviewer I trust.

A searing, courageous, and articulate stream of social, institutional and legal indictment, emotion, outrage, and love for family — bright red in its flame-throwing honesty and indignation. Chanel speaks for me, and likely for most women I know.

Writing a review

Of course, you can write reviews on many online platforms, but if it’s not something you do often, goodreads is a good place to start because half the “review” is already done for you: title, author, copyright date, genre, price, subject matter of the book, and special features.

Essentially, you need only dwell on highlights of the book and your opinion of its readability. Remember, you are not writing a book report for school, showcasing your knowledge of literature. You are offering a prospective reader reasons to read—or not read—a particular book. Your review should be an accurate, analytical reading but delivered with a strong, personal touch from any reactions and arguments from your unique perspective.

And don’t spoil the book for prospective readers by giving away the ending or unexpected twists. You can say you found the ending satisfying (or not) and you can mention that there were unexpected twists, but hold off on actual details.

As you’re writing, try thinking of your reader as a friend with whom you are having a casual conversation. Use language you would use in conversation rather than trying to be formal.

Review the book you have just read, not the book you wish the author had written. It’s okay to point out areas that were weak, but not to dwell on what you think should have been included that wasn’t.

Questions to consider about your reading experience

A review can be as long or as short as you like. Not all the questions below need to be answered. Pick and choose to highlight what you think is important about the book you are reviewing at the time.

  • Were you engaged from the start or did it take time to get into the book?
  • Will any scenes or characters stay with you for a long time? Why?
  • What aspects were highlights for you: style, characters, world-building, themes, plot? Talk about how well the author dealt with these, what you enjoyed and what you didn’t.
  • Was it an easy read? A wallow in exquisite language? A hard slog?
  • How does it compare with other books in its genre?
  • Did the style and/or content suit the intended audience? What do you think is the ideal audience?
  • Is it a departure from this author’s usual, or what readers would expect? Why?
  • Did the ending satisfy you?
  • Would you read more from this author?
  • Would you recommend this book?

Practicalities

To review a book on goodreads follow these steps:

  • Go to goodreads.com
  • Use the search bar at the top of the page to open up the book’s profile page
  • Scroll down until you see 5 stars and a button Write a Review.
  • Click on Write a Review and type away….
I Read Canadian Day

I Read Canadian Day

Gwynn Scheltema talks to Andrea Adair-Tippins

February 19, 2020 saw the celebration of the first I READ CANADIAN DAY. I asked Andrea Adair-Tippins, my friend and fellow writer, and librarian at Whitby Public Library, all about it.

What is I READ CANADIAN DAY and how did it come about?

Andrea Adair-Tippins shows off a stack of Canadian books

While driving to a school visit in one of the western provinces, children’s author Eric Walters had an idea. What if children were encouraged to read Canadian books—starting with just 15 minutes on just one day? A day he called “I Read Canadian Day.” He got on the phone and started calling people, organized a meeting between different organizations to discuss how they could support what they all believed in – Canadian books.

This initiative is now supported by the Ontario Library Association, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers).

What sort of activities happened on that day?

Whitby Public Library Central Branch

Hundreds of libraries, schools and independent book stores across Canada participated! People were asked on February 19 to read a Canadian author or illustrator for just 15 minutes with the idea that if they haven’t read Canadian this would expose readers to some great reads.

To encourage this, authors attended events, special story times were held with Canadian themes and guest readers, and scavenger hunts to find Canadian books were held at libraries.

authors Ruth. E. Walker & Bill Swan at Whitby Public Library

Also at our library, we extended our “I Read Canadian” promotions to get teens and adults involved. We handed out buttons to people who checked out a Canadian book. We peppered our information desks with maple leaves recording our patrons’ favourite Canadian authors.

We took photos of our local Canadian authors “reading Canadian” and promoted locally.

Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge shows support

Blue Heron Books, a local independent book store had a reading corner set up where community members could sit for 15 minutes to read.

Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books in the “I Read Canadian” storefront



What was a highlight for you?

I loved that everywhere people were talking about Canadian books!

According to Eric Walters, Canadian book sales have declined by 50 percent in the past decade.  Fifty percent? That’s terrible. Not just because we aren’t supporting authors, but we aren’t reading books that reflect our culture, our language, and our beliefs.

This doesn’t mean books by authors in other countries aren’t good and don’t deserve to be read, but shouldn’t we want to see ourselves in the stories we read? Shouldn’t our children? We live in a country that is diverse, compassionate, tolerant and welcoming. We need to read and hear the stories that reflect us. We need to read stories that call us to task when we fall down.

Our stories are unique and valid and valuable, and I am so lucky to work in a place where I stumble on new writers daily, luckier still I get to champion those writers. Having a day where everyone from libraries to booksellers to actors to the Prime Minister promoted Canadian books was a lot of fun.

What’s next? Will this be an annual event?

I understand that it will be an annual event. I know my library is planning to participate again, on an even bigger scale, next year. And seeing how successful the event was this year, I’m sure organizers will come up with bigger ideas for next year.

How can readers and writers get involved?

In addition to promoting Canadian work, organizers want to make sure access to Canadian books is possible for children everywhere, including communities where funds are limited. So one component of I Read Canadian Day involved monetary donations. Donations can be made through the I Read Canadian website to help make that possible.

And in the meanwhile, keep reading Canadian! We don’t need a special day to do that all year around. Librarians are only too happy to help you find Canadian authors

Last Word from Gwynn

If you want online help finding Canadian authors, try my favourite: 49thshelf.com

As we said in out post What’s on the 49th Shelf, this website is the largest collection of Canadian books on the Internet. They are also likely the most fully realized collaborative website in the world celebrating one nation’s books and authors.

Synopsis-itis

Synopsis-itis

Ruth E. Walker

A recent session on writing a book synopsis had me take a closer look at what goes into a synopsis and why it’s necessary. Let’s start with the necessary part.

Why start here? Because you need motivation to slog through the process of writing the darn thing right after you’ve spent years reaching the final draft of your beautiful novel. You are now exhausted. Brain dead. Wanting nothing more than getting your novel manuscript out there to eager agents and publishers and–what? You now have to condense 95,000 words into about 700 words?

Are you kidding me?

Right. So let’s start with why you need a synopsis.

Show you know what a novel needs

Agents/editors need to know you’ve written a beginning, middle and end. No one wants to read your manuscript only to discover you’ve simply stopped writing and tacked on “The End”. Your synopsis needs to present the plot and its arc, offer up the main character arc and convey a satisfying ending.

A synopsis doesn’t play coy by finishing with “And if you want to know how it turns out for Freddie Schmudlump and his hilarious gang of bank robbers, read the manuscript.”

Show you are not an amateur

A synopsis is a timeline presentation of the events and main characters of your novel. So not only do you pare down your glorious prose and engaging subplots, you stick to the timeline as presented in the novel. Don’t summarize with “In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Freddie’s piggy banks were stolen by bullies, so he is forced into a spiralling fall into a life of crime.”

A good synopsis outlines the main characters’ wants/goals (Freddie wants to be financially secure) and needs (Freddie needs someone to show him how to earn a living instead of stealing it.)

And remember that reference to “don’t play coy” by holding back the ending? Do not bury the plot twist, aiming for an “ah-ha!” moment. Like it or not, the synopsis of your novel is not the place for fancy footwork. Think of it as a business document and accordingly, written in clear language with the focus on the main points. No digressions. No layers of subplots and sudden reveals.

How to boil down 95,000 words

I’ve been working on my own synopsis for several weeks and stumbled onto a process that is making all the difference: working backwards.

From a post at JerichoWriters in the UK, I learned to start with the basics and build up the synopsis instead of paring down the novel, as follows:

Status Quo — the main character’s world before the inciting incident that triggers the story

Initiating Incident — the crack in the main character’s world that changes everything

Developments — the series of events that lead the story and characters to the crisis

Crisis — the fireworks, the culminating conflict, the big deal we’ve been building toward

Resolution— the last few pages, the whole end, the part in which you don’t “play coy”

This process is a genius approach because it keeps you on track for the necessary elements of a synopsis. JerichoWriters suggest that Developments should offer up no more than 40% of the synopsis, even though that is the bulk of the actual book.

Jane Friedman, former President and CEO of HarperCollins, in a Writer’s Digest post recommends an opening paragraph “identifying your protagonist, problem or conflict, and setting.”

She also reminds writers that agents and publishers are looking for strong writing skills. While the synopsis is a business document it still needs energy, so use an active voice. If you need a refresher on active voice, you might find our 10 Quick and Effective Edits useful.

But I’m a really good writer…

Lastly, if this is a clear document with a business-like tone and short, declarative sentences how can you demonstrate that you’re a terrific storyteller? How can give any sense of your ability to engage emotions and craft vivid scenes with a just-the-basics synopsis of 500 to 800 words?

By being clever. Sprinkle in those trigger words that evoke emotion. Drop passive language and use that active voice to your advantage. So if you’ve written “Freddie wants to be financially secure” consider “Freddie longs for financial security.” Taking a flat verb and giving it some oomph and energy makes a big difference.

In this case, we’re also giving Freddie some emotional punch. Interesting characters advance any plot when they have emotions and feelings.

A synopsis is just one tool to entice an agent or publisher to ask for the full manuscript. But it’s an important part of the package that includes a compelling query letter and at least one full sample chapter (generally the first chapter) that no agent will be able to resist. More on the query letter in a future post.

Copy This – Our work is not free

Copy This – Our work is not free

Ruth E. Walker

At a recent panel discussion at The Writers’ Community of Durham Region, an inevitable topic came up: money. A question from the floor about payment for work triggered an emphatic response that writers, like all other artists, need to remember to ask for—and expect—payment for our work.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

But not unreasonably, we also need to recognize that income for writers comes from a range of activities, not just putting words to the page. For me, that includes designing and delivering practical writing workshops, and providing a range of coaching and editing services for other writers.

Write for money?

Few authors can live exclusively off our royalties from book sales and big money movie rights. Frankly, if people wrote just for the money, I suspect there’d be many empty spaces on bookshelves. But again, that’s the reality for most artists. It’s a passion that drives us. A dream of creation. A love for the rush of putting the best possible words in the best possible order. A compelling desire to create a connection with readers.

Whatever it is that puts our butts in the chair and fingers on the keyboard, it’s also why some of us don’t stand up and demand reasonable compensation for our work.

(Un)fair deals

In 2012, the Copyright Modernization Act, Bill C-11, created a new set of exceptions for “fair dealing” for “educational purposes.” The Writers’ Union of Canada published an article by lawyer Jeananne Kathol Kirwin in Write magazine that explores those exceptions and the impacts.

Our posts from 2018 and 2019 offer some general background on the legal fight to restore compensation for writers and the negative effect those new exceptions set in motion.

In short, writers’ incomes dropped significantly from an already subsistence-level reality. And it became open season for institutions to copy Canadian writers’ work for free.

Image by Tasy Hong from Pixabay

On December 6, the Copyright Board of Canada issued a ruling that reinstates per-student fees for colleges and universities. It’s an amazing development and it changes everything.

As Access Copyright‘s President and CEO, Roanie Levy said: “The Copyright Board decision serves as the foundation for renewal of the symbiotic relationship that exists between creators and education after almost a decade of uncertainty. Access Copyright looks forward to working with our partners in education to ensure that students continue to have easy and affordable access to content.”

The decision from the Copyright Board of Canada gave postsecondary institutions a deadline of March 9, 2020 to pay the outstanding royalties. Access Copyright would be able to distribute royalty payments to registered authors by the end of 2020. If the institutions fail to meet the March 9th deadline, Access Copyright will have to take further action to ensure they comply.

Open season is closed

So thank you to Access Copyright and The Writers’ Union of Canada for their tireless and consistent work on postsecondary institutions skewed interpretation of what “fair dealing” meant. In short, for institutions it meant educators copying our work, distributing it to students and not paying for it. Payment for education purposes used to mean the institution paid annual fees to Access Copyright. In turn, Access Copyright paid out annual compensation to authors.  

As an author registered with Access Copyright, I receive a cheque each year. It isn’t a lot of money but it is payment for the use of my work in classrooms or businesses that choose to excerpt my writing for their purposes. That cheque dropped significantly once colleges and universities walked away from licensing agreements with Access Copyright.

A future built on the past

Over the years, I’ve let a lot of financial opportunity pass me by. I’m one of those insecure writers, with that negative voice in the back of my brain. The one that whispers that one day I’ll learn that I’m not truly meant to be a writer. That I’ve just been lucky. That any success has nothing to do with talent or vision. That I’m fooling myself. So the annual cheque from Access Copyright has always been a validation that counters my insecurities.

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

If my publisher hadn’t pushed me to register with Access Copyright, I may not have done it. I’ve watched how Access Copyright fought hard to bring truth to “fair dealing” for all creatives. And my membership in The Writers’ Union of Canada has meant I’ve had a front row seat to the amazing advocacy of Executive Director John Degan, who, along with the Writers’ Union board and dedicated members, helped to bring us to this stage.

The copyright fight is not over. To quote the Writers’ Union press release: “We have rates to work with,” said TWUC Executive Director John Degen, “so that’s good; and we remain confident pending court decisions will clarify that claims of fair dealing have been grossly exaggerated.”

The Copyright Board of Canada’s ruling is a significant step in the right direction. And that small voice in the back of my head is a whole lot quieter.

Sum Up The Story

Sum Up The Story

Ruth E. Walker

The manuscript is finished. You’ve edited until you can’t look at the words for one more minute. Your beta readers are all giving you the Thumbs Up. It’s ready to go out.

Then you see it. On the submissions page of the publisher you hope will publish your book. They want a synopsis. (Cue Jaws music.)

Good grief. You’ve perfected your manuscript. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Get over it. They want a synopsis and you have to produce one. So let’s cover the main points to help you pull it together.

Just the important bits

A synopsis is a kind of point-by-point outline of the story, summarizing what happens and who is changed by the end.

A synopsis is not a marketing tool but the first paragraph should offer a touch of a hook or any of the unique elements of the story. It’s not written like your novel yet it should hold a sense of your writing voice…your style…and the genre/style of the book. And just as important, it’s not a jacket blurb so be prepared to reveal the ending.

If a synopsis is interesting enough, agents and publishers will want to read the manuscript despite knowing the ending.

Short is sweet

For a novel, a synopsis can be as short as one page or as long as five pages. I recommend going shorter. Ideally, no more than two pages.  Unlike the manuscript, text is single spaced so you have a fair amount of room in those two pages.

To take full advantage of two pages, keep to the main story and the primary characters. You’re outlining the events but this is not a point-form summary. So your creative self needs to come through in how the synopsis is crafted. You can, for example, lift a slice of description or a touch of dialogue right out of the manuscript to use in your synopsis.

For example:  Mary is distraught by her husband’s perceived betrayal. “I’ve wasted years of trusting you!” Little does she realize that she is the one who betrayed them both.

Motivation + action = story

A synopsis needs to introduce the main characters, a touch of character(s) motivation and reveal conflict right from the beginning.

Don’t be coy—set the stage for the rest of the story:  Mary and Omar are the ideal couple, leaders in their rural community and a successful left-leaning political team. Newly re-elected mayor, Mary is confused when Omar opts to resign his council seat without telling her first. But when she discovers he’s involved with a far-right insurgency, she’s horrified and throws him out of their home. Then terrorists take a bus full of school children hostage and Omar is the only person they’ll negotiate with.

Subplots are not part of a synopsis but you can offer a single line or two if it matters to the main story.

For example: The themes of betrayal and loss are mirrored in a subplot involving school friends. In the same way, background or walk-on characters don’t need to be mentioned unless they are integral to the plot. As with subplots, keep it to one line: When the terrorist spokeswoman hesitates, she’s executed by the leader who then gives police 5 minutes before one of the children will be killed.

Zip up the ending

When you get to the ending, don’t short change your synopsis. Demonstrate how your ending has punch or significance: As Mary holds a dying Omar in her arms, she realizes her refusal to listen to the only man she’s ever loved cost him his life. Whispering into his ear, she promises to raise their unborn child with a true understanding of its father and his beliefs.

Check for basics

 There are several ways to tackle a synopsis. A simple approach builds it from listing the major turning points for your main character, then fleshing out a brief summary of the action at each point. Don’t forget to keep the whole narrative arc in mind as you work:

Inciting incident or the crack in the world of your main character that sets them off.

Rising action or the events that add tension and propel the story forward.

Climax or the point of excitement, ultimate change or Oh My God moment.

Resolution or the place that brings the story to a close.

There’s no perfect way to write your synopsis. But if you keep to these four elements, add in a dash of your writerly style and remember to focus on the main story, you should be well on your way to a compelling two-pager.

The Last Word: more synopsis resources

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis/ — examples and ideas on building a great synopsis.

https://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/15/clear-the-dread-from-the-dreaded-synopsis/— a detailed analysis of the how and why of synopsis. A long read but packed with things to consider once you’ve got the basics put together.

Fall for Workshops

Fall for Workshops

Ruth E. Walker

The autumn season is always a busy time: harvesting the last of the crops and taking in the warmth of daytime sun. We’re all aware winter is waiting in the wings.

For writers, this often means hunkering down into our writing space and getting serious about our projects. Maybe we start a new story or poem, review our plot and character arcs, or ready our works in progress for submission.

Getting serious can also include taking workshops, attending events or signing up for long-term courses. At the very least, getting serious means being open to learning something new about the business or craft of writing. In short, adding to your writer’s toolkit.

The British novelist Matt Haig (How to Stop Time, The Radleys and Reasons to Stay Alive) offers this about courses in creative writing:

To say that creative writing courses are all useless is almost as silly as saying all editors are useless. Writers of all levels can benefit from other instructive voices.

Matt Haig

Of course, you can find quotes from bestselling writers that will say the opposite–that you either have it or your don’t. Workshops won’t make any difference, etc.

But I side with Matt. We all have the ability to write, to shape ideas into words, to blend those words into sentences and put those sentences into a kind of order to say what we want to say. But even natural ability, dogged determination or unique vision will benefit when a writer focuses on the why and how of the craft.

Of course, I have an interest professionally in writers taking courses because I occasionally offer workshops. And I’ve seen first hand the discoveries and breakthroughs many of those participants have made in my workshops. But I also take workshops and attend writers events because I always learn something new. Every. Single. Time.

Ready, set…learn

For the next few weeks, I’ll be involved in several learning opportunities, either as a participant, organizer or instructor. This doesn’t include my biweekly meetings of Critical MS, an intense critique group where we all learn from offering and receiving feedback on our works in progress.

On September 28, I’ll be attending From Inspiration to Publication, a professionals panel of folks with publishing know how. The world of publishing has never been more interesting so I’ll want to understand more about self-publishing, audio books and co-operative approaches. Compare and contrast, as they say.

From Inspiration to Publication Saturday September 28

Located in Minden, Ontario, the morning panel discussion will be instructive with Scott Fraser from Dundurn Press, Shane Joseph from Blue Denim Press, Frances Peck from West Coast Editorial Associates and freelance writer and children’s author, Heather M. O’Connor. Author and journalist Jim Poling Sr. will moderate the panel.

In the afternoon, I take off my participant hat and put on my workshop facilitator hat to offer a hands-on workshop From Inspiration to Publication, running concurrently with the one-on-one sessions participants have booked with the panellists.

I know this will be a fantastic event because I’m also one of the volunteer organizers for the Arts Council Haliburton Highlands, Literary Arts Roundtable. Three hats. One event.

Travelling words

I’ll be back in Durham Region on October 17, meeting with the Sunderland Writers Group at the local library. I’m an invited guest, sharing some exercises along with writing tips and resources to support the launch of this new group.

On October 22, I’ll be offering a creative writing workshop for the Peterborough Library for their Try It Tuesdays program. Try it Tuesdays is meant to be a taster for anyone curious about creative writing. Experienced writers can challenge themselves in this workshop by going deeper with each of the exercises.

Laura Rock Gaughan

On October 23, I’ve organized an evening writing workshop at the Haliburton Library with author Laura Rock Gaughan. Laura was a resident artist at the Halls Island Artist Residency in Haliburton County (another of my volunteer organizations) and this workshop is part of her community project for the residency. As a side note, Laura is also the recently appointed executive director of the Literary Press Group, representing 60 independent publishers in Canada.

October 24 to 26, Gwynn and I will be in Cobourg at the Spirit of the Hills Festival of the Arts. The Festival is a celebration of sharing across the arts, and naturally Writescape will be there as participants and to showcase what we do.

Gwynn has worn several hats for this event too. She was an editor for the anthology Hill Spirits IV that will launch on the Saturday evening; as a co-host of Word on the Hills on Northumberland 89.7FM she has interviewed several of the participants in the festival line-up, and she was the judge for the poetry contest run by the festival. Even my son Piers will be performing in a play that was a winner in the playwrights contest.

Shelley Macbeth

On November 2, I’ll be at the Book Drunkard Festival in Uxbridge, Ontario, offering my half-day workshop, A Recipe for Great Characters. From October 17 to November 3, the Festival — a brainchild of the great Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books — celebrates all things bookish. As the website says: The festival captures the wonderment of the written word and its ability to intoxicate, transport and transform.

When winter comes, spring can’t be far behind…

Once you’re finished with all that hunkering down in winter, you’ll want to dig out and be inspired as nature comes back to colourful life.

Spring Thaw 2019

Join Gwynn and Ruth at Writescape’s Spring Thaw writers’ retreat April 17, 2020. Choose from 3 days, 5 days or 7 days to focus on your writing. The all-inclusive escape includes lakeside accommodation at Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake and all meals, as well as all taxes and gratuities.

One-on-one feedback sessions, daily workshops and group gatherings over the weekend combine with plenty of private time for writing and reflection. $250 deposit secures your spot at Spring Thaw 2020.