Archives for posts with tag: writing

Writing books is all about community so beware of self publishing.

Having read the above blog, I’m more excited than ever about being at the upcoming OIW Book Fair on Oct. 27 with fellow authors and readers. As for debates over whether to self-publish or with a traditional publisher, or as an e-book, I’d like to add these bullets from my 15 years of trying. As you will see, I come down on both sides of the fence, depending on where I’ve been able to find ‘community’:

  • Good, practical advice came in the otherwise-depressing rejection letters I got from traditional publishing companies. I had a maximum of a thousand dollars to put into my book and this advice was free. Structure, length and target audience were some of the trouble spots. I was angry and wanted to prove them wrong in rejecting me but, at the same time, I had to be humble and work harder at revising because ‘might is right’. If I could make my book better, everybody would win.
  • Getting impatient, I decided to self-publish my book as a paperback on BookSurge (one of the first digital publishers) in 2002 for two hundred dollars. They touted the success of some of their authors who had gone on to sign contracts with traditional publishers so this was my goal and role model.
  • I lavishly spent $500 on a review by a New York Times best-selling author, since I still had some money burning my pocket. This was an honest review by Ellen Tanner Marsh whose good reputation stood behind it. BookSurge offered it and it came out in time for me to quote from it in my back cover blurb.
  • BookSurge invited its authors to appear at their booth at the Frankfurt Fair in Frankfurt, Germany in 2003. The dates coincided with a solemn trip to Hungary we had to make to bear my mother-in-law’s ashes home for burial, so we added on the Fair expense as a more cheerful motive for our trip. What I gained from this was a chance to introduce myself face-to-face to just about every reputable Canadian publisher. Again, I got brutal advice, some insulting, which a self-publishing interloper on these hallowed premises might have expected. My new, improved, revision was the upshot of this experience. It was an exhilarating week. My book garnered good international comments and buyers. Some of the publishers called me after we got back home. I began to understand the publisher landscape and how digital books disrupted their financing and marketing.
  • A friend of mine, the guru behind the excellent online community, persuaded me in 2011 that the central love story/Indian reserve part of my book could stand on its own if published as a  Kindle e-book. I worked very hard, even doing ‘overnighters’ in my late seventies, to explore this fabulous new world of authors and readers.
  • What I realize now is that this new way of doing things lacks the real, essential community of writers and readers. I’ve been saddened by the superficial support games authors play on line. Also, I find Amazon’s free book promotions unhelpful for authors. I took part and got into the Top 100 ranking of Kindle ‘sales’. However, not only did I make zero, I didn’t get any customer feedback indicating that I was a part of a community of anything.

Still I’m hopeful that we can all have the best of all worlds. I’ll be bundling my e-book on to my paperback for a special offer at the OIW Fair. See you there!

Margaret Kell Virany is the author of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.

Baico Books

Baico Books (Photo credit: pesbo)

Raymond Coderre, President of Baico Publishing Consultants Inc., is closing his retail book store for Canadian titles. He will concentrate on online marketing, author advice and distribution channels for both paperback print and e-book titles.

When we popped in to  find out how the copies of my book had been selling he was dressed impeccably in suit, collar and tie and greeted us as genially as ever. But my heart sank to see the ‘closing sale’ signs and realize it was the last time.

  • Baico will publish e-books for Kindle and Kobo, for example, as well as paperbacks at the same location, 294 Albert Street, Suite 103. It takes pride in “professional, friendly, warm, personable” service.
  • The street-level retail store is closing. No more author signings at the perfect location with Treats next door. Two or three ‘walk-in’ customers a day are not enough.
  • Check out for (1) how to submit a manuscript for publishing and what the rates and royalties are (2) the catalogue of dozens of fresh, intriguing Canadian titles, with cover pictures and author information
  • Huge boxes of books go out to Chapters locations across the country from Baico headquarters regularly. Staff are busy handling the publishing, packaging and returns.
  • “What is the ideal, not-too-expensive place to hold a book fair in Ottawa?” is a question that still stumps Coderre. Ever innovative, he is flexible and alert to changes in the industry and has solved many other problems. He set up Baico in 1997 after retiring from the federal civil service (with what used to be called the Queen’s Printer). Baico has been a success filling the niche of giving support to local authors.

Incidentally, he sold five out of the 10 copies of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void which I had placed with him and paid me promptly so he is  in this author’s good books. Good luck, Raymond!

This blog post adds to the mystery of why anyone would entitle their family memoirs A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of lang and lit, note-taker of Norrie Frye, journalist, editor, author, almost octogenarian

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Kate Heartfield on assignment in India

The other night Kate Heartfield, Deputy Editor of the Op Ed (Opposite Editorial) Page of the Ottawa Citizen, urged a media group to which I belong to get busy writing.
“Writing is so essential. People who fall ill and are about to die feel impelled to use their time to write as much as they possibly can. Look at Christopher Hitchens who was taken away by cancer last year, or John Milton who wrote his greatest works when he was going blind. One writer I knew was very prolific all his life but kept up an even more dizzying pace during his last two months.
“I hope I am not being morbid”, she chuckled and smiled.
Her point was not to wait until it’s almost too late but to tackle writing with energy, freshness and joy because it is a fantastic talent to have, a close kin of life itself. We members and friends of the vintage Canadian Women’s Press Club, now the Media Club of Ottawa, sat up and took note of her tips:
“(1) Approach the blank sheet of paper as a child. In my case, I know I must formulate my column with a point, a certain number of words and a summing-up at the end. But what words can I use that are not clichés? Every piece of writing is like a child’s play, a new, fresh creation.
(2) Put away your ego (except for the self-confidence you have that you can do the job) and identify with your reader and more general social concerns.
(3) Everyone is an expert on something so don’t be too shy to submit your opinion to the Op Ed page of a newspaper. You can email me at the Citizen or look on the website of the newspaper in your area to get an appropriate address.
(4) Don’t expect your writing to be edited. Copy editors are a thing of the past. It’s your business to make sure your grammar and spelling are correct and your piece conforms to the paper’s tone, style, length, capitalization, etc. No one has time to fix it up, except for minor things.”
Mother of a two-year-old child, Heartfield appears to be following her own good advice while enjoying robust health. Aside from the very demanding deadlines, hours and responsibilities of her job, she also writes fiction and is about to publish a fantasy novel.

Heartfield told us the subscription policy of online editions of traditional newspapers is called ‘paywall’. Readers may browse and read stories for a set number of times before they are asked to pay for a subscription. The Guardian is an example of a newspaper that is free.

Thank you for spending your precious time reading this post. Please browse around top and bottom and, if you like, comment.

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keepsake In September 1967 I was a stay-at-home wife and mom with a six-year old son and two baby daughters.

Our kids were not my major problem, however. Nor were our means of support and security. My husband had taken a job as a patent examiner with the Government of Canada. His starting salary was $8,000 per year, with annual increases promised and monthly deductions for income tax, health insurance, public service union dues and a  pension.  I could cook, sew, clean, garden, manage  and be thrifty.

Not One Moment to Sit Down and Write
My big concern was that I didn’t have a moment in my day to sit and write down what I was doing and thinking. My passion was to record and pass things on. What I was doing was important and should not be forgotten.  How could I capture my fleeting thoughts on these lonely days spent carrying out the daily duties of motherly love?

Be Ingenious
I solved the problem by tacking together a few 4 1/2″ x 5″ pieces of lightweight cardboard as a booklet and draping them around my neck with a piece of string that also had a short, blunt pencil attached. If I had the urge to write, even while standing at the bathinette, I could.

Preserve Raw Emotions and Facts
Yesterday I read through those notes after so many years and was shocked to see how frantic and unsettling they were. A shrieking baby in the background, dirty diapers with diarrhea running down legs and onto the floor, a six-year-old pleading for his mommy to come and play museum with him, bursting into tears, struggling to get kids into snowsuits and then having to take them off ten minutes later, getting angry, going to a bridge club where mothers talked about their hair, trying to wake up a husband in time to catch his bus after he stayed up repeatedly until 2:30 a.m. making furniture for the family, being irritated with Grannie for being so insecure she needed approval for things she’d been doing her whole life, disagreeing with the next-door neighbor over diet . . .

Throw out the Garbage Words Later
The dangling diary may have been a good idea for helping me cope but its soul-baring sob story would hardly inspire a future generation. The words I wrote down were garbage, full of aimless rants and frustrations. Now, 45 years later, I put them in the recycle bin with just a tinge of regret.

Start a Keepsake Box for Your Next Family Memoir Writer  My booklet did not make the cut to get into the keepsake box for the next generation of family memoir-writers to discover. Literature emerges from more composed sources of reflection.

Enjoy Living Your Memories Too If anyone’s interested in what I did in my earlier life, I have a beautiful array of descendants to exhibit.  And that’s nothing compared to the love, joy, satisfaction and thankfulness inside my heart.

Thank you for spending your precious time reading this post. Please browse around top and bottom and, if you like, comment.

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It didn’t take long for the conversation to get around to e-books when we holidayed in Muskoka cottage country last summer. A university professor was actively engaged in publishing one in between swims. All that was left to do was the Index — and this was a problem.

Unlike paperbacks, the Look Inside This Book feature for Amazon’s Kindle books does not provide a Search box for individual words. The reader can only look at the Cover or the Beginning chapter.

In contrast, the problem of an index is no headache if you are publishing a paperback. It may not be necessary to have one. If the author chooses the “Look Inside This Book” feature on the Amazon catalog page, the reader can click on it and then click again to enter any word in the search box that appears.

For example, in my catalog page for A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void  in the paperback version (, if you enter the word “Indians”, 51 retrievals will pop up, “love” — 47, ” letter” — 37,  “canoe” — 23,  “cariole” — 14,  “Prince of Wales” — 3, and so on. This is a free service Amazon provides for authors and readers of paperbacks.

Could this possibly be offered to e-books too? Self-publishers don’t have the time to worry about indexes in between swims and canoe rides at the cottage.

Thank you for spending some of your valuable time reading this post. Please browse around and, if you like, write some comments.,,,,

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When you shower a new book writer with bouquets, you risk assisting at the birth of an infamous author‘s ego.

But praise and feedback are vital to a sensible author who learns to assemble them into a foundation for later sales.  Here are ways I’ve used for you to try too:

How to Make a Readers’ Comments List

1. Just say thank-you and smile until you have something in writing from someone you know who has read the book.

2. Don’t destroy any messages that come in from or via your first buyers. These will be from family, friends and others they lent their copies to.

3. Open a readers’ comments file in your computer. Enter all email messages and scans of letters that contain solid feedback.

4. Acknowledge all messages and include the phrase, Do you mind if I  quote you on that? People don’t mind, as long as they are quoted exactly and with no gaps. They are glad to be helpful and supportive. (If you absolutely must omit something in mid-sentence, insert three dots in its place:  “. . .”)

5. Delete salutations and personal sentences from entries, keeping the most articulate, focused excerpts. Here’s an example of the format I use:

“My flight out to CA was made all the more enjoyable because I read A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void ( on the way. I thought it was very well done – a very good read. It has real potential for a wider audience.” Chris Delmar, Westport, CT

Where to Distribute Your List Widely

6. Submit a few of the comments to your Amazon page, under Create a Review. This must be done by someone other than the author. The  review on is honestly entitled  ‘Comments Received Directly by Publisher‘.  These are serious, freely submitted opinions from legitimate sources.  For whatever reason, the writers were not able to send them in on their own. To take a look at what I’m referring to, click on this link and scroll down to the second review:

<a href=”//”>;showViewpoints=1</a>

This review has been a placeholder until I received independent reviews.  Now I  can remove it, as I did the ones on and

7. Print out a copy of your list and bring it when selling at bazaars or book fairs. Browsers will enjoy its gossipy interest. No one wants to be the guinea pig buying the first book.

8. Open a comments page on your own website. Paste the list in and break it down into sections (e.g. year received, reader’s country) to make it easier to  read. This contributes to the aura that a lot is going on with your book.

9. Choose a snappy quote from your list to give your next book  promo, tweet or advertisement a relevant, authentic punch line.

Thank you for spending some of your valuable time reading this post. Please browse around and, if you like, write some comments.,,,,

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The biggest challenge an author faces is how to be a seller. By starting close to home, I found it was an unexpected amount of fun.

I wrote A Book of Kells in 2003 to get my life together in a broad perspective that would interest all people of all time. If I had any talent it was with a pen.

My parents had left behind tantalizing remnants of their puzzling, adventuresome behavior in the form of assorted scribblings and snapshots kept safe in boxes. I was a minister’s daughter, a voyage that compares to being a vaudeville star’s offspring shoved early on stage to help the family business.

#1.The Family Reunion
Our extended clan gathers for a picnic every July. I contacted my cousin who sends out the invitations and he put my book cover on the notice. These thrifty farmers forked over without hesitation, adding to the family fun.

#2. College Pals
My best friend from college made a spoof of my ego, setting me up on a throne in her living room with a sign “Author’s Chair” on it. Thirteen of us have kept together for 50 years. I took a little ribbing; they had to buy copies to see what I said about them in the book.

#3. The Local Library
Our local library supports local authors by hosting book launches for them. They provide the room, staff members and a press release. The author brings people and refreshments. Members of my church, former colleagues and friends came. An author friend sent flowers and the mayor gave a speech. What a help to get a picture into the community newspaper!

$4.  A Friendly Merchant

The owner of a stationery store in our mall likes to have an author standing outside as an attraction. He invited me to come whenever I wished and he gave me advice: wear red, stand up, make eye contact and bring loads of books. This worked wonders. When I made a sale, he rang it up on his cash register and took a 15 % discount.

Mount Wellington from Lindisfarne, Hobart

Mount Wellington from Lindisfarne, Hobart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I have too many books and am getting on in years, I thought it would be a good idea to buy  a Kindle reader.  Downsizing to an apartment or a retirement home would be easier if I could carry up to 1400 books with me in my purse or one hand.

Shortly after my purchase, our church’s  annual Spaghetti  Dinner & Used Book Sale came up,  an event not to be missed, with the best sauce in the world cooked by two scoutmasters. I wolfed down the pasta, Caesar salad and cake, then, full of sales resistance, I approached the book tables.  I was here just to browse.

Moments later I fell for a fantastic  six-pound tome, still in its original royal blue and white dust jacket with a picture of a steamship on it. It was 11 1/2″ high, 8″ wide and 1″ thick.

Harry Price’s The Royal Tour 1901 is an account of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall’s nine-month world tour from the perspective of a crew member. The book is handscripted on heavy parchment paper with  170 exquisite, delicate, colorful  drawings of ships, people, animals, birds, landscapes, seascapes, ceremonial arches erected specially for the royal couple, charts, logs and imaginative title pages.

Small wonder I was ensnared, its contents were so relevant to me. The author is shown wearing a tropical ordinary seaman’s dress uniform, as my father wore in World War I. The HMS Ophir sailed from Portsmouth, UK, where my mother was born. Price’s Wikipedia biography says he was born in a caul, which is fabled to make a person drowning-proof, and so was my sister.

But more than that, I’m planning to publish an ebook on my husband’s and my road trip all around America in a Prius and I need to look at other travel books to see how they’re done.

Price must have known his book risked being a boring, repetitive, ultra-patriotic  paean to the British regime. He saved it by including his own illustrated story of going off ship and climbing up and back down Tasmania’s 4170-ft Mount Wellington in one day. It was an impossible feat but he had made a bet with his buddies.

When he reached the summit, he hoisted the flag he had bought before he set out. To plant it, he used  a stick he had found along the way and carried with great difficulty. He needed to produce proof of his exploit for the other members of the crew to see.  Unfortunately, it was a French flag because all the stores were out of Union Jacks, due to the Royal Tour.

Now that’s a story worth buying, even if you are already loaded with books and have no guarantee of always owning a coffee table.


We have many ways of honoring our mothers on Mother’s Day, such as with beautiful tulips. Aside from that, did you ever think that one day you might write a book about your mother? It’s very satisfying and here are 16 reasons why: (In upcoming blogs I’ll tell how I did it, so you can do it too.)

  1. You are an expert on the subject.
  2. You will be recreating a loving bond and passing it along to others.
  3. You will be following the “honor thy … mother” phrase of the Fifth Commandment.
  4. You will be using a latent talent that will make you and others proud.
  5. You will find out more about your mother’s traits and your own DNA.
  6. You will gain knowledge about the family you come from.
  7. You will find out more about the love that brought you into being.
  8. You will gain a new perspective on the times when your mother lived
  9. You will be using more of your time creatively.
  10. You will be happy, thinking about what to write while you do menial chores.
  11. Even your sleep time will be fruitful, as you wake up with new insights.
  12. You will reconnect with others who knew your mother.
  13. Your book will bring you readers and new friends.
  14. You will be keeping your mother’s name and memory alive.
  15. You will gain a new appreciation of the progress of life, generation to generation.
  16. You will be saying thank you and sharing on behalf of all of us and our mothers.

Thank you for spending some of your precious time reading this post. Please browse around from tip to toe and, if you like, write some comments.,,,,

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Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) was a role model for generations of British woman

Susanna Annesley (1669-1742), mother of John Wesley, was a role model for British women

A surprise comment from some women who read my book is, “Margaret!   We had the same mother!” What we seem to have in common is not that we have the same DNA, but that our mothers were British. They wonder, as I do, why their mother never talked about herself, and never talked to them about their selves. “What were our mothers thinking?” they ask.

Susanna Annesley was so conscientious  (a trait of the mothers we’re talking about) she set down her ideas about child raising so she could be a good example for all women. In this excerpt from A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void it was 1955 and I lived in a student residence at the University of Toronto that bore her name:

“In my senior year, I was elected president of Annesley Hall, the girls’ residence a.k.a. the Bastion of Virginity. This home to sixty Victoria College co-eds was named after John Wesley’s mother, Susanna Annesley, who set the Methodist pattern for raising children. She considered obedience the basis for all other virtues, since children must learn from their parents until old enough to form their own judgments. They must clean up their plates, speak softly to the servants and be honest, knowing that forgiveness was at hand. She taught her eight children the alphabet on their fifth birthdays, although two of the girls took one-and-one-half days to master it. They learned to pray and read the Bible, and each evening she spent an hour with one child alone. She paid particular attention to John, God’s special child who had been saved from a fire in the rectory at the age of six. He grew up to be called ‘the most influential Englishman since Shakespeare.’”

It was not a warm relationship between the egos of mother and child but a strict training in obedience, humility, appreciation, honesty, redemption, literacy, Biblical mythology and worth. My mother lived from 1900 to 1990 and was still dedicated enough to the Methodist pattern to try to instill these virtues. Traumatized by  World War I, she particularly emphasized security, based on trust in God. It took six years of research before I could understand her, celebrate our love and take real joy in having had her as my mother.

What do you think? Were these ideas horrendous or sound? Too cold and radical?

In later years John Wesley said,  “My mother was the source from which I derived the guiding principles of my life.” But maybe he would envy his contemporary, Benjamin West, who said, “One kiss from my mother made me a painter.”

Thank you for spending some of your time reading this post. Please browse around from tip to toe and, if you like, write a comment.

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