Sunday, September 14, 2014

Word, Vancouver is Coming Up!

One of my favourite annual events to attend and participate in is Word, Vancouver (formerly known as Word on the Street). Over the past twenty years, the event has grown from a single-day festival to a four-day long celebration of reading and writing. The culmination of all that fun happens on the last Sunday of every September in various cities across Canada. This free event is a wonderful day where authors, editors, magazine and book publishers, literacy and writing organizations gather from all over the Lower Mainland and beyond to enjoy a day of readings, panel discussions, book bargains and music.

Crime Writers of Canada will once again be exhibiting on Sunday, September 28th. This time we’ll be indoors at the Vancouver Public Library (on Georgia Street), so if it rains we’ll at least stay dry! I’ll be manning the table from 1 to 3 p.m. with fellow writer Derrick Carew to tell people about the CWC and celebrate the new titles that Derrick and I, and other writers have released this year. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Publishing Stats From the UK

Those who follow my blog know that I love stats, so a blog by Kathleen Jones from the Authors Electric Collective caught my attention. Kathleen takes a look at the UK publishing scene, but the numbers might also reflect North American trends. No links are provided to the source of the stats, so I’m taking this at face value. Heaven knows that numbers change weekly in this crazy biz.

First off, it will come as no surprise that the total market share for the big publishing houses is down from 70% in 2001 to 59% now. Penguin Random House alone was down by 15% in 2013, not a good sign but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will remain this way. Assuming that these publishing houses want to stay alive, they’ll have to find new ways to market and sell books, just like the rest of us.

The self-publishing world continues to grow at a pretty healthy rate. In 2013, Lulu rose by 38% and CreateSpace sales were up by 161% in one year! It appears that a lot of self-publishers are bringing out print versions of their books. Apparently, half of all book sales in the UK (print and e-books) are now through Amazon. A few months ago, I wrote about the large number of bookstore closures over there. Clearly, Amazon is having a huge impact on book buying habits.

Kathleen refers to Nielson source which indicates that e-book sales were up by 20% in 2013. E-books accounted for 25% of all book purchases in the UK and one in five of those sales were self-published books. Paperback sales were down by 23%.

You can draw your own conclusions from these and other stats in Kathleen's blog, but it sure seems that the tough times for traditional print publishing isn’t over. As Kathleen also notes, with all those books out there, an author’s discoverability is going to become tougher as well. The tsunami of books is growing and each of us is a guppy caught in the wave. The challenge, as always, is not to drown in it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Print Versus Digital Reading Experiences

A few days ago, The Guardian published a piece about a study that wanted to determine if there were any differences in the reading experience between print and digital books. The study was small, using only 50 subjects to read a 28-page Elizabeth George short story. Half of the participants read the print version and half read the story on Kindle. The subjects were then tested on aspects including objects, characters, and settings, and the scores were fairly even. But when they were asked to place 14 events in order, the e-reading subjects did significantly worse than the print readers.

The researchers therefore suggested that a Kindle doesn’t help readers retain what they’ve read as well as print because there’s no tactile and visual way to see the pages they’ve read. They also suggest that turning the pages may provide some sort of sensory offload that somehow helps reading comprehension. You can read more about this in the link I provided.

Another study referred to in the piece was conducted on 72 Norwegian grade ten students who were asked to read a text book in print and on their computer screens. Those who read the PDF version scored significantly lower on comprehension than those who’d read the print version.

I’m not sure what all this means or if the studies truly reflect the experiences of others. I do know that reading from a tablet is a different experience for me than reading from print. I read faster on a screen, or at least it appears so. There isn’t as much text on my iPad screen as there is in a trade paperback, so I’m tapping the screen far more often than I would be turning the page. Many of the books I download do tell me how long the book is and how many pages I have left to read. As for comprehension, honestly I haven’t tested myself, so who knows? I strongly suspect, though, that none of us who grew up reading print should discard it anytime soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Scams and Other Crimes

Scams and other crimes related to the book world is nothing new. Unfortunately, scams are so common that websites such as Writer Beware and Preditors &Editors have been around  for some time. If you’re new to the writing business, you might not know about them, so I thought I’d provide a little more info.

First, however, is news from cbs/Pittsburgh, warning people about a thief who’s been stealing hundreds of bestselling novels from libraries and selling them online. It seems he knows how to bypass security systems. The police have a pretty good idea who he is, and the sooner he’s caught the better. One library alone has lost $6,000 worth of books. I imagine that insurance coverage will only go so far.

As far as scams go, I came across an interesting piece by author and designer Dave Bricker who was contacted by someone eager to hire him as an editor. After taking a look at the document, which had plenty of errors, Dave told the client that it would take a lot of work and be expensive. The client was not deterred. He wanted the edited document in thirty days and mailed a check. He then wrote to say that he’d made a mistake on the check and had written too high an amount. Could Dave please deduct his payment and mail him a check for the balance? And that, folks, is the scam, one already filled with red flags, which you can read about in Dave’s blog. This type of thing has been happening to other businesses and now the crooks are trying it out on editors. Let’s hope most of them are too smart to fall for this crap.

Now, for the resources. One of the most popular is Preditors & Editors. Founded in 1997, this Colorado-based non-profit organization is basically an information resource for writers, composers, artists, and game designers. It also contains a page of warnings about scams and unethical practices from editors, publishers, and agents. Their warnings page lists links to other resources that caution people about unethical publishers, agents, or editors.

Another good resource is Writer Beware, and I’ve added the link to their “About Us” page. As stated on their page, the site is devoted to warning writers about scams, schemes and pitfalls. It’s sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and also supported by the mystery and horror writers organizations. It provides not only warnings, but helps aspiring writers avoid the pitfalls that are out there.

Be mindful that the sites aren’t perfect. Although they try to do their due diligence before posting a warning, sometimes errors are made. If you hear something negative, remember that it’s always a good idea to dig a little deeper.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Musical Chairs -- Er, Publishers @PerBastetBooks

For something called a "House", publishers can be surprisingly fluid. To add to the confusion, when they dissolve when they're INsolvent.

That isn't the only reason they dissolve, of course. The publishing partnership I just left dissolved because of a variety of incompatibilities and disagreements. I hope all the former partners regain and retain all our good feelings toward one another; each has strengths, but the shakedown period proved that we didn't work and play well together.

But The king is dead! Long live the king! -- I've joined a new partnership.

Per Bastet Publications has begun. We're getting our paperwork in order (or, as we say in imitation of the chefs who "plate the food", we're rowing our ducks). We'll be transferring our own books from other publishers (or, in some cases, some of our books and leaving some with previous publishers because we're happy with them). When we feel we're on a firm basis, we'll start soliciting submissions from others.

Not very splashy, but we've seen too many new small presses splash all the water out of their own pools by starting to big too quickly.

Wish us luck!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Creativity and Mental Illness

The tragic death of Robin Williams has triggered a wide range of discussions, articles, and blogs about depression. PBS quoted a neuroscientist named Dr. Nancy Andreason who is currently studying creativity and the brain. One of her quotes in the short pbs article indicates that “Persisting in the face of doubt or rejection, for artists or for scientists, can be a lonely path—one that may also partially explain why some of these people experience mental illness”.

Dr. Andreason has made studying the brain and creativity her life’s work. Her interesting article “Secrets of the Creative Brain” appeared in June’s Atlantic Monthly, which reveals some pretty interesting insights on potential links between genius, IQ, and creativity. Her current thirteen subjects include George Lucas, novelist Jane Smiley and six Nobel laureates in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, and physiology. In an earlier study, she also worked with Kurt Vonnegut for years while examining the link between creativity and mental illness.

One of the things she discovered is that "Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see.” She also writes that so far, the links between mental illness and creativity, which she did with Vonnegut and others, have been borne out in this study. Apparently a high percentage of her subjects come from creative families who also have mental illness issues. Both nature and nurture seem to play significant roles. Much more is revealed in her interesting article, which you can find at

It’s so sad that these issues only come to the forefront through the untimely deaths of creative people, but with the work of Dr. Andreason and others, maybe we'll learn, one day, how to prevent more tragedies from happening.