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How to choose books for your unique avatar

What would  you choose if you wanted to take a picture of  a few of your favorite books, not more than seven inches wide when stood together? The names of two websites I like,  ‘Books ‘R Us’ and ‘Books Tell Us Why’, gave me the seeds of this idea for a new avatar. It would be right for the task, less random and superficial than a mug shot.

My books are shelved up- and down-stairs all over the house so it was a good exercise. Digital,  thumbed-over, dog-eared, faded, curled, moldy, soiled, frayed, ripped, incomplete, taped, sagging, spineless specimens wouldn’t do. I needed color and titles that would be attractive. What photogenic line-up could be readily assembled ?

After I’d made my choices and taken the shot, there seemed to be some categories and sense to it all. If you want to show who you are  by presenting a few books, for an avatar or any other reason, here are my tips. You have to love them because they are all of these things:

  • Useful: An indispensable reference book for your favorite passion or hobby
  • Fun: An entertaining, exciting novel or fantasy book that carries you away to another world
  • Shocking: A nonfiction exposé that stimulates your curiosity and thirst to get at the truth about what really happened
  • For the mind and soul: A book that is a mentor and idol to give you an intellectual boost and spiritual understanding
  • For social identity: A biographical history of a person or group  who align with your  own career path, background and type of  companions
  • From your family: A history or autobiography written by you or a relative

My books in the photo above are, from left to right:

  1. A collection of recipes which reflect my childhood and perpetual delight in good food, especially when cooked by loving people and served at communal events like harvest suppers, strawberry socials and silver teas. Someone suggested to me that ‘Who Cooked the Last Supper?’ might have been a better title than ‘Eating at Church.’
  2. The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas. Hundreds of others would have done but only this one had a red cover, gold lettering and the sentimental value of having been a gift from my son when he was a boy.
  3. The Pagan Christ. As a willful (but good) minister’s daughter, I was always interested in the pagan customs and natural images unsuccessfully squelched but peculiarly integrated into Christianity.
  4.  Northrop Frye Myth and Metaphor: Selected Essays 1974-88. My class notes of his lectures are included in those now appearing online for public access at, Robert D. Denham library collection.
  5. Sweet Sixteen, the story of the 16 irrepressible woman journalists who formed the first Canadian Women’s Press Club while on a privileged train trip to the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. I  belong to their renamed club.
  6. A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void (, the 20th century family memoir I wrote about my parents and me.

Are you books? What favorites would win your book contest? We love to get comments and browsers so please make yourself at home!


Brazenly, I decided to call my ordinary family’s history A Book of Kells after Ireland’s finest, famous relic of western civilization The Book of Kells. My sister, Tanis, agreed it should be “a story for all people of all time.” Our father (John Kell of a farming family) and mother deserved no less. Like the ninth century monks behind ‘The’ illuminated Gospel vellum, our parents practiced selfless Christian tenets, taking no credit themselves but leaving a record behind for the after life.

  • Brazenly, I thought of my genre as ‘true novel’ which defies the Oxford dictionary’s definition of the novel as being “fictitious prose.” Professor Northop Frye loved to tell his students that the Greek word “myth” simply means “story” and the English word “fictitious” is from the Latin word for “something made”. I wanted to relate as accurately and excitedly as possible what really happened in my parents’ lives so people would enjoy reading about it. That would make the book authentic and launch a voyage of self-discovery and learning as I wrote.
  • Brazenly, I decided all the names of people and places in my book would be real. My parents had been dead for over six years when I started to write it in 1996 but some names linked them to ongoing connections. I disciplined myself to do careful research and record my sources. If it was going to be a classic, it had to be able to stand up to scrutiny. If anyone objected or threatened to sue, my defence would be that I wrote the truth and could substantiate it. 
  • Brazenly, I bet myself I could find a beginning, middle, climax and ending in the appropriate places if I studied my parents’ diaries, letters, etc. thoroughly enough. I would not have to write fantasy, which I can’t. In fact, the bones of a novel were there and so was a theme: selfless love and redemption. I added the subtitle Growing Up in an Ego Void. Making myself my parents’ foil kept up the pace of the post-honeymoon story. Frye taught his students that the Bible (“the grammar of western civilization”) had two types of continuity. One was the chronological continuity of the Hebrew people’s history and the other was a cyclical continuity on the theme of redemption.
  • Brazenly, I took a chance on having BookSurge, a pioneer in the technology of print-on-demand digital publishing, publish my book in 2002. It cost only $299 so I still had $500 burning a hole in my pocket. I took advantage of an offer BookSurge made to hire New York Times bestselling author, Ellen Tanner Marsh, to review my manuscript prior to publication. She wrote a good, honest, favorable review from which I lifted a blurb to print on the back cover above her name and credentials.
  • Brazenly, I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany in 2003 and dropped by the exhibit booths of the Canadian publishers to try to interest them in my book. BookSurge had invited its authors and we accepted because we were already planning a trip to Hungary. The publishers gave me the curt nods and surprised looks a self-publishing interloper on these hallowed premises might have expected. One publisher told me my book “reeked of self-publishing” although he felt BookSurge had done an excellent job. He pointed out that I had used “by” before my name on the cover, had no logo on the spine, did not have a page for chapter titles and did not refer back to my sub-title inside the book. When I came home I fixed these deficiencies. Two publishers called me later in Canada; Saint Paul University seriously considered publishing it but chose a competing book instead. They said mine fell between target audiences; they suggested I look for a publisher on the basis of location.
  • Stubbornly, I have persisted as an independent author, selling everywhere possible, but have now decided to be more selective and financially savvy. Aiming to write a classic is not the same thing as aiming to write a bestseller. At the recent conference of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa I was able to peddle editing services as well as books. I got a booming endorsement from a past president, Glen Wright, who said, “This is a marvellous book. I just read it. I hope you sell all the copies you brought with you.” Other good places for me to sell in are seniors’ residences where nostalgic, romantic, true books like mine are popular. I’m optimistic about returning to Galeries Aylmer’s Foire Artisanale on Nov. 25th along with Santa Claus. I’ll share a table with Stevie Szabad who is launching her book about being an army brat. For the first time I will have a Square register with me so I can accept credit cards. 
  • Brazenly, if someone asks who my role model author and favorite book are I reply, “Anonymous, who wrote The Summoning of Everyman. This morality play is the first play Frye mentions in his course on Modern Drama. It was written in fifteenth century England and is still being performed today. I saw it performed by Ottawa’s Third Wall Theatre in the National Art Gallery outdoor amphitheatre in 2005. It is being performed in the Pershing Square Theatre in New York City this year. 
  • Modestly, I do not plan to leave instructions in my will to have a copy of my book stolen and buried under the sod for two months and twenty nights before it is retrieved and presented to a university to be displayed, similarly to The Book of Kells. I’m very content to keep on trying to share the story and hearing from wonderful readers from all over who comment and say they enjoyed it. Writing a family history is memory’s classic way to create a link to loved ones and times that have passed on to the after life.

A couple whose lasting love started because of an infernal war.

Here’s what I did in this bold enterprise of writing about my family. I  hope my experience may be helpful to you too.

To present my parents’ life story and my growing-up story I hit upon two ways. First, I could combine the stories of two generations — but only if I could find a beginning, middle and end for a structure around a unifying theme.

  • It couldn’t just be that they were born and died and did something fantastic as a climax near the end. I had important things to say about their effect on me as I grew up. I saw flaws in their relationship.
  • The central theme I wanted get at was one of ego. Altruism is without a doubt the greatest virtue. But babies need to suck in, see and exercise a healthy dose of ego joy in order to become competent, confident, caring adults.
  • My solution was to frame the book as a psychological detective story/family biography. I began by saying I was on a search for my parents’ lost egos. One question I wanted to figure out was why my mother denied my father one of her chocolates the week before he died, even though he begged for it.
  • That way I could keep the reader in suspense and also make the book an honest critique. That’s my way as a nonfiction writer.
  • The title was easy because our family name was KellThe Book of Kells is the famous ninth century manuscript that illuminates the gospels. I point out my parents and ancestors aimed to do that too, by the way they lived.41khlscocglSecond, I could write the book just as an inspiring love story — the quintessential Canadian romance. This approach might appeal more to a different group of readers. 
  • Like the first book, it contains excerpts from my parents’ love letters but the theme is a tribute to my mother’s courage and my parents’ idealism.
  • I tossed out the subtitle and included a dozen authentic pictures of my mother’s adventures instead.
  • The title comes from a hazardous five-day trek on a cariole toboggan made by my mother, my father and an aboriginal guide. The temperature dipped to 30-below-zero. If there was no one to take them in, they slept outside. She had to get to the hospital for her baby to be born.
  • Digital technology made it easy for me to do this. Both books are published under our V&V logo but printed on demand and distributed by CreateSpace (originally called BookSurge.)
  • Revisions are quick and simple to make. Then I order just the number of  books I think I can sell at bookstores, fairs, shopping malls, reunions, book clubs, seniors’ residences, libraries, book clubs, etc.
  • Most customers have a definite preference for which printed edition they want for themselves or as a gift.
  • I take my i-pad with me and can download an e-version of either book if that is what a customer prefers.

Reblogged on

Source: Wouldn’t It Be Great to Have a Magic Button on Your Keyboard That Corrects Everything? But Editing and Proofreading Need to be Done by a Human Being. Here’s Why!

To find out more, click on the link or image below to read Jane Friedman’s advice: amazon-book-description-optimize/

Source: How Writers Can Optimize Their Book’s Description on Amazon…

The scoop on editing with Amazon Publishing.


The author stands on the grounds of the 6th century Abbey of Kells

You never know when you will make a connection. If channels for selling your book seem stale, why not search farther afield? I’ve just returned from a trip to Ireland, where the roots of my family memoir, A Book of Kells, lie. This email from the Tourist Office in Kells (Meath County) Ireland was in my email box this morning:

Good afternoon Margaret,

Thank you so very much for the copy of your book you left at the tourist office here in Kells. It is our Bank Holiday on Monday, so we have a long lazy weekend. If the weather holds I intend to sit in the garden, with my feet up devouring every word therein.

I was intrigued as soon as I saw the cover as my father, his father and various ancestors all served in the Navy. So can’t wait to find out all about your father in particular.

I will email you next week and tell you how I got on. And I will pass the book around the staff and my friends in Kells.

 Thanks again, and very kind regards,

 Doreen Fitzsimons

Kells Tourist Office

I’m looking forward to corresponding with Doreen. She is an expert on all things connected with The Book of Kells and obviously, an extremely nice person.

This blog post adds to the mystery of why anyone would entitle their family memoir ‘A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void’. (Our surname was Kell and I am a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether we originated in a community of ninth century monks.)

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The UPS store on the other side of the Prescott-Ogdensburg International Bridge helps some Canadian authors save on shipping costs.

The UPS store on the other side of the Prescott-Ogdensburg International Bridge helps some Canadian authors save on shipping costs.

If you want a successful book launch, stay organized while awaiting your order from the printer and getting ready to sell at events you’ve already arranged.  These tips may help you avoid the blunders and adopt the time- and money-saving techniques I acquired in past launches, as well as the one I’m doing at present.

  1. Learn how to add a sticker to improve the sales appeal of your front cover. Even if your book hasn’t won a gold-star award badge, it is legitimate to put a sticker on it to attract customers. After having stared at the cover of my proof copy for days, I saw that the lower third was bare and needed ‘oomph’. It is easy to learn how to do this and not too time-consuming if you just apply stickers on the number of copies you need as you go. I found that the local Staples stores sell colored or white labels of various shapes, sizes and finishes made by Avery. Never having done this before, I made all sorts of mistakes. I tried to cram too much text into each 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ label and wasted a lot of hours and stickers trying to center and control the layout inside six rows of three oval shapes on a sheet. In desperation, I turned to the Avery website. Believe it or not, they provide a free, blank template for download to use as a guide. From there on I was able to print my stickers out perfectly, ready to be put on my books.
  2. Now is the time to make sure you have a good supply of updated business cards on hand. You can also buy a packet of blank business cards, download a template to your computer and compose them by a method similar to the one used for sticker labels.
  3. Try to find out the precise ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how much’ of your book order delivery, or else pick it up. An author can lose money by having to pay a  heavy warehousing charge, for example, or missing a lucrative event because an order of books didn’t arrive. Get all the precise information you can over the phone in order to track your books, if they are coming a long distance, and be in the right place at the right time with the right payment method. A tip for Canadian authors (many of whom live an hour or two’s drive from the border and have their books printed in the United States) is to look at the UPS website for information on their $5 fee for a service that provides their depot as a U.S. delivery address for Canadian customers. Sometimes my printer, CreateSpace in Charleston, South Carolina, offers free shipping but only for books delivered within the continental U.S. My books always arrive promptly and we enjoy the scenic drive down to Ogdensburg, N.Y. to fetch them.
  4. Calculate what your total expense has been to produce your book and save your receipts. For me, this included $21 spent three times over to get successive proof copies from CS via the fastest mail; the cost of the 50 books I ordered, shipping, sales tax and UPS fee; and the cost of the stickers. I threw the receipts for more general business expenses such as lunch, mileage, business cards, computer paper and ink into my income tax file. You need to know what your books cost you so you can estimate such things as ‘What share of the money from each book sold can I to donate to the church or charity who is sponsoring my book launch?’ or ‘Does this book store retain too big a percentage or ask me to leave too many books on consignment?’
  5. Satisfy the Government’s legal-deposit  requirement to immediately provide two copies of your newly published book to the national library. You will then be listed in its catalog, available to distribution agencies, book stores and library branches wanting to locate or order copies of your book. In my case, this means dropping the copies off at Library & Archives Canada on Wellington Street, Ottawa. I talked by phone to Rachel in their office who remembered me from when I applied for my ISBN years ago. She said I should attach a note requesting my copies be brought  to her attention. She would post the Amicus cataloging information on the LAC website asap and from there I could unload it to the inside front cover page of my book, to appear in future print runs.
  6. Take copies around to the book stores and event sponsors who have invited you to sell and sign copies. The stores can start selling your book and put up a poster to advertise and stir up interest in your upcoming signing. Give your proof copy to the person who is sponsoring your book launch so she will be inspired to help promote it. Fulfill any other promises of advance copies you have made — in my case to a radio host who interviewed me when my paperback was published as an e-book and has now invited me back.
  7. Every day, update your calendar with the time, place, exact location, contact name, email address and phone number for all the events you are planning.
  8. Set goals for how many books you aim to sell within what period of time. You cannot make a person buy a book or predict how many events you will need to sell enough books to make your goal. What you can do is make a realistic estimate based on your past experience and that of author friends. Ask the book stores’ owners how many copies of their books other local local managed to sell in their shop on a certain day at a certain time.
  9. Enjoy being an author as you visualize and assemble what you will need to go public with your book. Ruminate in your mind on your sales themes (eg. war centennial, Christmas), your sales pitch, your book’s price at different locales, what  you will wear, your table’s covering, and conspicuous novelties to attract buyers to your table. It’s a great way to have fun meeting people!

Next blog post: How to accomplish live sales of real books

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertaining. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon, CreateSpace or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

scrnshot kcrI am finding that an author who is converting an e-book to a paperback has a lot of work to do. Fortunately, my publisher CreateSpace is a pioneer in the process and has honed it to perfection. My job is to type the manuscript into Microsoft Word according to their guidelines, edit it and get at least one other person to proofread it. By now I have learned how to scan pictures into my computer and use the picture program from the MW toolbar to size them and insert them into the manuscript. With more and more practice, I have become quite expert at getting them placed precisely!

When I am ready, I go into the CreateSpace website and click on the commands that let them know I am here to publish my Kindle e-book as a paperback. Because CreatSpace and Kindle are both owned by Amazon, they will convert my book to the new format at no cost! All I need to do is follow their explicit instructions and fill out their forms. They ask for details of my identity, my book’s title, the number of pages, my choice of dimensions, etc.

They also require an ISBN (international standard book number) so that it can be cataloged by libraries and distributors. I got my number from Library & Archives Canada, although I could have had CreateSpace get it for me. Mine was Canadian; theirs would have been American. I had been advised by Canadian publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2003 to follow this path and also to create my own imprint name and logo.This makes the author’s copyright solid.

Making a cover was easy with the CreateSpace cover creator, since you can choose from a variety of templates, fonts and pictures to find what suits  your book best. You can experiment and see previews of your book title in different designs and colors until you are satisfied.

When you are ready, you convert your manuscript to a PDF by clicking the appropriate line in MW, then go into CreateSpace. It will tell you when to press ‘upload’, ‘submit’ and ‘save’ until the job is done. If you are in doubt at any step of the way, you can contact support and get immediate help over the phone or by email.

I found the whole process very satisfactory and am now waiting for them to finish reviewing my files. Then I will ask them to send me a proof copy by priority post. Changes can still be made but everything takes time. The last decisions are to accept  what they say the price will be and order as many copies as you wish. Besides the postage for the proof ($25) the books will be your only expense.

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertaining. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Rideand Eating at Church on Amazon, Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

(Next week I will write about how I plan to promote and sell the paperback.)


A good book cover design stays on message, pleases the eye and provokes a strong emotional response.

A good book cover design stays on message, pleases the eye and provokes a strong emotional response.

While I am no expert in book cover design, as an avid reader my point-of-purchase opinion counts. This is my favorite book cover and it dresses one of the best war books I have ever read and reviewed. It is written by  a colleague in the Media Club of Ottawa who gave me the confidence to set up  a weekly community newspaper — but she has been dead since 2002. My Memorial Weekend blog honors her memory.

The cover designer has limited tools to work with but a good cover packed with emotion and information can have an awesome impact. You the author have to judge whether you’re getting your money’s worth.

Here is why I like this one so much:

Overall It Is Strong and Elegant

  • It has unity
  • Everything on the cover strikes the theme of patriotism and courage
  • The gray background sets a mood of gloom

It Is Pleasing to Look At, with Attention to Detail

  • The picture is a close-up of the author’s face
  • The picture frame shows her efforts were focused
  • The title letters are outlined with a disciplined black, showing this is no light topic

It Conveys a Message

  • The title has only three essential words
  • The plain black news font of the author’s name and the subtitle suggest it is a work of non fiction by a journalist

It has economy and space yet stirs excessive emotions.

  • The colors denote red for bravery and blue for loyalty
  • The colors of the frame are the colors of the British, American French and Canadian (except for the blue) flags
  • The flourish of the title italic script is like a woman’s skirt in the forties.

The back cover reads:
“There have been many memoirs of World War II, but none as remarkable as One Woman’s War Remarkable because, unlike other war memoirs, it is written by a woman — and a marvellously engaging and courageous woman at that. Remarkable, too, because it is a story not of military campaigns and grand strategy, but of the joys and sorrows of life on a civilian battlefield — the battlefield of the French resistance. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Gladys Arnold was sent to Paris by Canadian Press in October 1939, and was the only Canadian reporter to experience the sudden traumatic invasion of France by the Germans in the spring of 1940. Fleeing Paris only days before it was occupied by the Nazis, Arnold returned to Canada passionately committed to the cause of the Free French — a cause which from 1941 on she tirelessly promoted as information officer with the Free French office in Ottawa. One Woman’s War is Gladys Arnold’s vivid, eyewitness account of the fall of France and the growth of the Free French resistance. She was one of the first journalists to interview General Charles de Gaulle, and she brings to life many of the memorable people, French and Canadian, who fought in the underground war. One Woman’s War is a moving, unforgettable portrait of the Free French movement and of an extraordinary era in human history. Elegantly written and emotionally powerful, it evocatively captures the drama, excitement and tragedy of the war years, an era that resonates with the pain and heroism of an entire generation.”  Published by James Lorimer & Company in 1987; republished as an e-book in 2011.

Here is the review I recently posted on Goodreads “Gladys Arnold was a friend of mine in the Media Club of Ottawa.  If you would like to meet an elegant, intelligent, warm single woman who ventured abroad as a reporter for the Canadian Press in world war II, fought for the Free French and was given a French Legion of Honor Award, then read this book. I gave it as a birthday present to my husband soon after she wrote it in 1987 and we both loved it. The original book cover design is my favorite of all time.”

One Woman’s War is on sale in the gift shop of the Canadian War Museum and on Amazon.

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