Keep Your Eye on the Prize

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At the beginning of this month, the Whistler Independent Book Awards opened for 2019 submissions, and it got us thinking about how the increasing recognition of self-published books in the awards arena is yet another positive change in the book publishing landscape. The WIBAs recognize excellence in Canadian self-publishing, and two years ago, we sat on the shortlisting committee. The quality and professionalism of the work we judged was undeniable, and last year, one of our client’s novels, Return of the Jaguar, was honoured as a WIBA nominee.

There is no doubt that, whether you’re nominated for an award or, of course, you win one, it’s great publicity that will lead to increased attention – and yes, sales – for your book. And good news: there is, in fact, an extensive list of awards for which self-published books are eligible. The Writer’s Union of Canada has done a nice job of compiling them here. And if you’ve written a children’s book that you feel is an awards contender, check out this list that The Canadian Children’s Book Centre put together. Not included on this CCBC list is the Vine Awards, which our client Deborah Katz won last year in the children’s/young adult category for her book, Rare Is Everywhere (taking home a very welcome $10,000 prize to boot!).

These lists are not necessarily comprehensive, so do a little bit of homework on awards available in your genre – even a quick Wikipedia search for Canadian book awards will bring up a pretty decent list to supplement the ones provided here. And don’t assume that any awards shut out independently published books; check their eligibility requirements (along with their deadlines) regularly to see what doors have been opened. Another one of our clients recently submitted his mystery thriller to the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, which is open to self-published authors. Who knew?

The opportunity for self-published authors to now be recognized for their work by literary awards is another positive way that the divide between traditional and independent publishing is closing, and let’s face it, being a winner feels good too!

A Writing Toolkit for 2019

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Was your new year’s resolution to fine-tune your writing? Well, even if wasn’t, it’s always a good idea to check in and see if there are any resources that can change your writerly life (and your writing) for the better. So with that, we’ve put together our top recommendations for honing your craft and turning out your best work in 2019:

1.     Invest in Scrivener and ProWritingAid. As we learned at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, if you’re writing your book in Word, you need to stop now and get your hands on Scrivener. This content-generation tool is tailor-made for writing manuscripts and allows you to outline, restructure, write synopses, incorporate background material, etc. while you write, all in the same software. But don’t take our word for it: check it out here. And, want to save some editorial dollars? More and more editors are requiring their authors to run their manuscripts through ProWritingAid before they submit them. This editing tool not only checks spelling and grammar, it also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre.

2.     Join a writers’ group. There are few better ways to stay inspired and motivated, as well as get constructive feedback on your work, than by convening with fellow writers. Check Facebook for local groups in your city or town; they’re usually easy to join and meet fairly regularly. And/or join a local writers’ society in your community and attend their sponsored events and workshops. Or, check out the list that CBC Books compiled of writers’ groups across Canada.

3.     Stay in the online loop. The Write Life’s 100 Best Websites for Writers is an invaluable resource, year after year. Have a look at the 2019 list here, which is broken down into the following helpful categories: freelancing, inspiration, writing tools, blogging, creativity and craft, editing, podcasts, marketing and platform building, writing communities, and publishing.

4.     Read more! Read more books in your genre, and just read more in general. There may be no better way to improve your writing skills (there’s even science to back that up!). And if you need that extra little push, join a book club. Book clubs are no longer necessarily the boozy, gossipy evenings of yore (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Today, you don’t even need to leave your house to join one. Facebook and Instagram proliferate with book clubs, and even celebrities are “joining the club” with their own groups, like Reese Witherspoon’s “Hello Sunshine” and Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Self.” Sounds kind of inane? Well, according to The Globe and Mail, book culture has converged “with social media and the power of celebrity influencers to become a sexier, more public-facing version of its former self.” And that can only mean one thing: more book sales – and that is always a good thing.

Finally, don’t forget to always have the essentials on hand: a dictionary and a thesaurus. And, to remind you that a) you’re not alone, and b) you’re never finished learning, pick up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Whether you adopt all of these recommendations, a few, or even none, do this one thing in 2019: write what you love, and you (and your readers) are bound to be rewarded by what falls on the page.

I’d Rather Drop Dead Than Do a Mic Drop

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Autumn is one of our favourite times of year at Behind the Book. Annual “best of” book lists abound, literary awards are bestowed, and the Vancouver Writers Festival brings a host of fantastic talent to town. This year, we took in three great events at the Writers Fest that featured Cherie Dimaline, Patrick deWitt, Gary Shteyngart, Deborah Levy, and more. Each event was a delight to attend and completely engaging in its own way. (If you ever get a chance to go to a deWitt or Shteyngart reading, do so! They had us in stitches.)

But that’s not always the case. As much as we love going to see the writers that we enjoy on the page, they’re not always riveting “on the circuit.” After all, writing is a solitary endeavour, and communicating eloquently in a book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something you’re comfortable with in a public setting. And yet, promoting your book through launches, readings, and interviews is an integral part of any effective marketing plan. So, what do you do if public speaking is just not your thing?

Fear of speaking in front of groups is a common phenomenon. According to Psychology Today, some people fear public speaking more than death! And even this year’s Word Vancouver festival included a “Performing Your Work” workshop on “the foolproof techniques that veteran authors use to overcome the jitters.” By now we know that imagining your audience in their underwear to alleviate anxiety is a public speaking myth. However, focusing on one or two audience members who are listening with a smile (or at least a modicum interest) will go a long way to making you feel less nervous (another good reason to always invite family and friends to your readings!).

It’s important to remember that no one is judging you, and most people are there to support you. Keep in mind that it’s fans or admirers filling that room to see you, and that will go a long way to building confidence at the mic. And, practise makes perfect. Read your excerpt (again and again) into your mirror, your smartphone, or your tablet (okay, or to your cat). The more you practise your words, the more comfortable you’ll be delivering them “on stage.” If the prospect of speaking in front of a group still makes your stomach turn, join a Toastmasters’ Club, invest in a training course for speakers, or pick up Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Simple Public Speaking Tips for Writers.

The truth is, you’ll regret it if you spend your entire event being nervous instead of celebrating your accomplishment. It does get easier the more you do it, and it also happens to be character building. As self-published author Judy Croome says, “I guarantee from personal experience that, when you walk away from your first book reading, you’ll have a deeper understanding of yourself as both a person and as a writer. And that can only benefit the stories that you write and the books that you sell.”