Self-publishing Advice (in hindsight).

Mission accompished- Meet the author at Perfect Books

Mission accompished- Meet the author at Perfect Books

Self-publishing Afterthoughts: What I did and what I wish I’d known.

I won’t repeat what’s already online about how to self-publish. I will say: It isn’t 7 easy steps. Also, note the date as you read- the market is changing rapidly (eg. CreateSpace has surpassed in preference; is exceptional but hardly a household name yet…) Mostly, I will share my mistakes with you, the shortcuts that I wasn’t aware of, the money I could have saved.

First- What I did (bare bones):

-manuscript in final copy edit, creative complete, (acknowledgements, disclaimer, dedication, permission etc.)
-artist and designer working together on cover

Early cover sketch

Early cover sketch

-website content: excerpts, discussion questions, photos, images, blog… ($1500)

-crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding levels the playing field. Everyone (anyone) can make a CD, start a small business, publish a book- crowdfunding is a great way of getting investors/capital.

I wrote the script for the campaign video (minimal wording) and planned “perks” for donors. I hired professionals to tape the video ($850). It was uploaded to youtube & my website. It can be used after campaign for marketing.

I used for the campaign & I have no complaints. Lots of support material is provided. I ran a summer campaign & I missed donors because of it. I made $4,000 on the campaign and from that paid 9% to Indiegogo, paid for the video & part of the website bill, printed 200 books and mailed 50 of them as perks to campaign donors.

-joined Facebook with marketing in mind during crowd-funding campaign

-manuscript went to designer to lay out in indd format. Proofs and final edits. Cover jacket then finalized on indd with blurbs, reviews and quotes, art, scanner product code. Whole thing went to local printer to print 100 copies digitally ($1,700) (I didn’t make enough on the campaign to afford a larger traditional printing- 1500 books for $12,000.)

Signing & wrapping "perks" for crowd-funders

Signing & wrapping “perks” for crowd-funders

-Epub version of file created for upload to Amazon for Kindle reader. Very fussy. ($400 for expert help)

-I readied a Microsoft Word version of the manuscript using Smashwoods Style Guide and then uploaded it to where it can be purchased by anyone and downloaded in any format (PDF, Kobo, Kindle, Apple iPad, Apple iPad, Nook, Sony Reader, & most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others (Epub), PDF, RTF, Plain text, Palm Doc (PTB), LRF). I’m not techno-talented. If I can do it, anyone can. (It took me many hours and there was some yelling at the computer.)

-Uploaded to Kobo (epub file) then Nook (epub file), although Smashwords can do this for you automatically with your properly-styled Microsoft Word document.

-Launch & marketing tasks picked up.

-Second order with local printer- this time $3,400 for 200 digitally-produced books. (My greatest folly.)

-Last thing I did was upload to CreateSpace for print-on-demand at Amazon (and married that page with the Kindle version)

Okay, now this is what I wish I’d known:

Those people who say they’ve got self-publishing down to 7 easy steps accomplished over a weekend are blatant liars (or doing a shoddy job). Block off some time, I mean holidays, a summer…

1- Plan marketing long before you’re even finished writing. Flesh it out once in a while, constantly picking other people’s brains and websites. Have some real tasks set out in detail for when your book is launched. By that time you will be up against sheer fatigue and some fear too. Have the steps broken down with a timeline- some tasks will begin months before the book is even complete.

2- Join Facebook way back when you’re writing the book & include friends in the journey. It comes on harsh when you show up just to market your new thing (even when you’re upfront about it).

3- Chat with your videographer a few times before filming- bargain a better price, trust your vision & share it, choose young hip videographers, plan a fun day, be flexible- let the magic happen. Don’t over-practise.
Video practice fun- click to see blooper

4- Don’t run a crowd-funding campaign in summer when everyone’s outside. Study Indiegogo and plan at least a couple of months ahead of time. There are some great crowd-funding workshops out there. This is when you need your savvy computer friends to help out- people with connections who will put some effort into spreading your video/researching email addresses/finding contacts online who will help your cause. You will spend hours doing this, but according to workshop notes I have, you need someone “who can come up with 500 new contacts in a day when the pressure is on”. I still don’t understand how to access to email lists/newsletters etc.

5- Style your Word Perfect document using the style guide. This is worth every moment to get it right. If you read this early enough, do it while you’re setting up your manuscript in the first place and write within that format. Then upload it to and thru them to Kobo and Nook.

6- Get print-on-demand thru Create Space and (yay!) use the Word Perfect document you just styled for Smashwords. Now you can print those perks for your campaign donors at $8 each plus shipping, so yeah, you’re not saving anything really- except all the visits/proofs/interaction with the local printer, wrapping and mailing all those books, putting cash out on a large order that may or may not be filled quickly (There are a lot of boxes of books at my house.)

Books arrive from printer

Books arrive from printer

7- I wish I’d known that when a local unknown author leaves books at his local independent bookstore (no, Chapters won’t look at you until you sell a bunch on Amazon), that these books are left on consignment. When they do sell, it’s 60/40, the writer’s 60% hopefully covering his production costs. (I paid $17 per book, they sell for 29.99. My share is $20.)

8- I wish I’d taken responsibility for the product bar code on the back of the book. There’s a simple app to check that the bar code works, but mine doesn’t. It feels unprofessional when this comes up in a bookstore.

9- Why did I pay someone $400 to edit my epub file for Amazon? I could have gone to smashwords first and got an epub file from there. Then I could have used it for Kindle or Kobo or whoever else.

10- Choose a publishing date at the beginning of the month. My date is Sept. 30. Now when I’m going to author’s fairs and so on, I am asked what month it was published because the show may be open only to authors who published in the last 6 or 12 months.

11- Plan more than a month between campaign-end and launch. It will take at least 6 weeks to print books and mail them as perks, upload and give e-books in various formats, and plan launch details. My tight deadlines caused unnecessary stress.

12- If I were to do it again, I would insist that the artist have a final look before the designer sends it to the printer. Mistakes would have been caught by the artist that the designer didn’t see. Neither the designer nor the artist saw the cover proof before it went to print (different cities) and that caused errors in the final product. If timelines had been kept (or if I’d been more flexible about changing deadlines), there would have been time to mail it around.

First look at the proof, tears in my eyes.

First look at the proof, tears in my eyes.

My final bit of advice: Take charge- this is your project. Your inexperience with publishing doesn’t equal stupidity- demand respect for knowing your product & your audience and for your many skills. Do not be intimidated.
Surround yourself with encouraging dependable people who will give quick and honest feedback on script, video, blogs, website look, campaign progress, cover, book dimensions etc.

Last word: Joy. No matter how traumatic the process is, do not succumb to fear. It’s a triumph to finally relinquish your creation and share it with the world. Take time to dwell on the joy. Congratulations on your accomplishment, my friend. Best of luck!

Reading at Cdn. Authors' Book Fest April '14

Reading at Cdn. Authors’ Book Fest April ’14

Indian chai recipe

My friends say this taste is synonymous with my home, but for me, the taste is India itself.

cardomom pods, cinnamon stick, black tea

cardomom pods, cinnamon stick, black tea

Put a bit of water in a pot with crushed cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom pods (1/3 stick cinnamon, 1 whole clove and 3 pods per person).

Boil this for a few minutes, then add a mug of milk for each person ( I use rice milk, but a mix of soy and rice is really good, or regular old cow’s milk.) Add a black tea bag per person.

Heat gently and add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon honey per person or to taste. Leave it on the stove until you can’t resist the smell. The longer you leave it, the better it tastes.

Another option: use loose black tea and put it in the pot with the boiling spices before simmering. This is more traditional but I find it too strong.

Whatever gets me through the Ottawa winter is a good thing.

Whatever gets me through the Ottawa winter is a good thing.

Mushrooms are Mostly Air (Flash fiction)

Mushrooms are mostly air.

Mushrooms are mostly air.

Wind ripples the long dried pods still hanging from the honey locust tree, and they clack together like a mammoth wooden chime. The gnome’s sharp ears pick up the low clacking; the music fills his body the way a favourite memory does.

He’s cobalt blue from his pointed hat to his pointed toes. He stands beside a sturdy stout mushroom ready to get to work, now the smoke has cleared.

The smoker comes five, even seven, times a day to this rarely-used path through the small woods at the back of the park. The largest rock welcomes her and after she blows the sweet smoke into the air, she continues to sit and stare for some time. She always sniffs and leaves tissues about. Then she heaves herself up and plods back in the same direction she came from.

The gnome knows this smoke will impair his frequency if he isn’t careful, so he waits inside the mushroom until the wind has done some preliminary work.

And that is precisely the behaviour that has confused the scavenger. The skinny shirtless man comes most evenings. He doesn’t smoke, but he collects the leavings of the sick girl. Sometimes he can’t find the gnome. Sometimes he can.
Today he says, “I know you’re a real thing and not a schizophrenic thing. I been takin’ my meds.”

The gnome is grateful for the help, but he wishes that the man would take the tissues too.

Gnome's home

Gnome’s home


a stout sturdy mushroom

a stout sturdy mushroom

Remembering Halabja

2013-03-31 15.14.32

Today is the day Halabja was lost, 14 years ago. In Iraq, 5,000 Kurds were killed in one chemical gas attack.

The new Halabja monument in the Hague is fashioned after the infamous photos of people dying in their tracks, shielding their children with their bodies. Bas News reports that it is fitting that the monument be in the Netherlands “since a Dutch businessman Frans van Anraat was sentenced to 17 years in prison for selling raw material for the production of chemical weapons to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s.”

See the monument here.

This is the account I was told (from The Word Not Spoken):

He leaned back against the wall and pulled her closer to put his arm around her. He showed her pictures of his army service. Ahmet looked unfamiliar in the pictures with his buzzed hair, green fatigues and black boots laced up his shins. His ears stuck out. The soldiers held their MG3s and MG11s casually. Their faces were smiling, their arms around each other. The background was brown rock with an occasional pale green bush.

Ahmet explained that every male Turkish citizen performed eighteen months of military service by the time he was twenty years old. Ahmet, however, had served twenty-one months. He had been in the army during the Gulf War. He had fought with the Turkish Army on the border of Iraq. Their enemy had been the P.K.K.

He said that the P.K.K. (Kurdish Workers’ Party) was a powerful group of Kurdish freedom fighters. They were fighting the Turkish Army in the east and in the government.

“How could you fight for the Turks against your own people?”

“It is difficult situation.”

One picture showed Ahmet jumping from one huge rock to another, a large gun hanging from one shoulder loosely swung through the air with him.

“One time, the American Army gave us the location of a P.K.K. camp. We surrounded the camp in northern Iraq. It was big; about five hundred guerrillas lived there. We shoot a few hours. Then an American helicopter came and rescued some men from the buildings in the middle of the camp.”

“The United States told you the Kurds were there and then rescued them from you?”

“A few. With a ladder. Like a rope.”

“Why would the U.S. help both sides and have them fight each other?”

“Of course, to make both sides weak. And busy.”

He flicked through the pictures. “This one,” he said, pointing to a picture of five men laughing at the camera. “The next day they died. All four. Yes, I am the only one who is still alive.”

“Really, the next day?”

“Hah, in one battle. All on same day.” He gazed at the picture and was silent for a moment. Settled now with her head on his chest, Leigh looked upwards to see pursed lips.

“What did you do?”

“I cried.”

Ahmet sighed. He flipped to the next picture.

“These are the refugees from Iraq. Do you remember 1991, they walked over the mountains to get away from Saddam Hussein?”

Leigh nodded. The picture showed hundreds of people and tents crouched on a mountain slope.

“He started many years ago. In only the 1980s, five thousand Kurdish villages were destroyed by him. One of them was Halabja. We can never forgiven that. Halabja was the most beautiful place in all of Kurdistan. Many people say it was the sweetest place on earth. It was a green diamond.”

“An emerald.”

“It was Kurdistan’s heart. One day Saddam made it rain gas. Thousands of people were burned and poisoned. Some run to Iran.

“And 1991, same crime, but many, many towns near to Turkey. They were fighting for freedom from Hussein. They run to Turkey.” Ahmet shook his head. “They are treated like animals here.”

He tossed the pile of photos aside and rummaged for more in one of the plastic bags on the floor.

2013-09-29 17.46.02



“Halal Pork”

In Ottawa, a butcher opened a shop in a neighbourhood with a dense population, mostly immigrants. A small mosque was just down the street. He got regular requests for “halal” meat but when he shook his head, the people left without buying.

One day, a Muslim woman noticed a sign in his window for halal beef. She found the price to be reasonable and the beef delicious. Word spread and new customers arrived. Soon the butcher advertised “Halal Chicken” and “Halal Lamb”. For weeks, business boomed. Then one day he put up a sign that ended his good fortune: “Halal Pork”.
Do you know why?



Halal foods are meat & products containing meat (includes some cheeses, marshmallows, gelatin, pharmaceuticals…) that have been blessed, that is, prayed over while the animal was killed in a humane way. The animal would not have eaten animal by-products.

Halal does not apply to fish. (Which is how the butcher might have advertised his confusion next: “Halal Fish”.) Muslims don’t eat pork. It is haram meaning “not permitted”.The fraudster had revealed that he didn’t get his meat from a halal butcher (who must use a sharp instrument at the throat of the animal, say the name of God, hang the carcass to bleed dry…and who would never touch a pig).

Some Muslims want their health-care products, creams, shoes, clothing (eg leather) to be halal as well. I know Muslims who don’t pay any attention to halal (they eat fast food burgers) and I know those who are extreme (they reject all food made by non-Muslims). In a Muslim country, all products are halal of course. Awareness becomes necessary when a Muslim moves to a non-Muslim country. This new vigilance usually just involves package-reading but can be as acute as a fear of contamination.

I know a devout man who follows many Islamic practices, yet he starts all his cooking by saying “Bismillah” meaning “Starting in the name of God”. He says that means he can use whatever meat is available- halal or not. That’s a twist many Muslims don’t agree with.

I brought a Kashmiri friend to a Christian’s home for Christmas dinner. He had decided he wouldn’t eat the turkey- he always eats halal, prays 5 times/day. It was some time before he said, “What is this brown juice? It is very good.” By then, he had already slurped back lots of gravy. I thought he’d be upset to learn the truth but he took it in stride.”If I don’t know it is haram, it isn’t a wrong thing or a bad thing. How can it be?” But he never drank gravy again.

At a school potluck (adult ESL), Middle-Eastern students grouped their halal offerings together on one table. When I directed some Muslim Africans to put their halal food there as well, a few Middle-Easterners objected. As people moved in and out of the room, dropping off food and going to morning activities elsewhere, this group repeatedly separated the African halal food from the Arabic halal food. No matter what I, the Cdn. teacher, argued, they just didn’t want the “black” food next to theirs, halal or not, they told me- it was probably dirty. I accused them of soiling the beauty of the halal concept: a ritual that clears/blesses food and gives a group a feeling of security…and in a foreign land, a feeling of community.

More Ahmet and Leigh (Turkish bribes)

This passage was edited out of The Word Not Spoken because of length. It was originally part of Chapter 30, the summer that life became “normal”.

One hot morning, Ahmet caught up to Leigh as she strolled down the main street of Goreme, with nothing more on her mind than a desire for chocolate.
Gel,” he said. “We go now to Eregli.” He took her elbow and turned so that they headed back to where she’d been coming from.
“I must see the prosecutor there.”
“To pay a fine.”
“I must pay today or I will go to jail tomorrow.”
“What! Why?”
“Why you need to know everything? Just you will come with me.” He nodded at her dark green Turkish dress. “It will help me if you are there.”
He was in Ali’s blue suit, she noticed then, and freshly shaved.
“How much is the fine?”
“Maybe $1000.”
“A thousand dollars! U.S.? You pay today or go to jail tomorrow?”
He nodded. “Six months.”
“But how long have you known about this? Why did you leave it to the last minute? Six months in jail or $1000, and I’m only hearing about it today? What did you do?”
He groaned. “My poor brain to marry a woman like this.”
They reached the carpet shop and stepped into the courtyard. The boss wasn’t within sight so Ahmet went on a search. Leigh chatted with the woman on display for the tourists. She was knotting a maroon and indigo carpet on an upright loom. Unasked, a young boy brought them tea. Leigh downed her shot quickly as Ahmet appeared at one of the arched entrances and motioned impatiently.
Gel! You know we must hurry.”
She scooted across the old stone floor and caught up to him in the office where the boss counted out $1000 in commissions. He nodded appreciatively toward Leigh and said something in Turkish. Based on whatever lie Ahmet had told him, he wished them a good journey, and they were off.
It was only two hours to Eregli, a medium-sized city that Leigh had never been to. It appeared much like Nevsehir- concrete houses and shops but not much in the way of parks or restaurants. Without hesitation, Ahmet drove straight to a government building complex, parked the car and headed to one of the ugly yellow buildings.
“You’ve been here before,” commented Leigh but he didn’t answer. In fact, he seemed preoccupied, and it occurred to her then that he was nervous.
“Are you sure that paying the fine will prevent going to jail?” she asked as they climbed some wide steps into the building.
“Yes, I already told you this.”
“What did you do? When did you go to court?”
He grabbed her hand and pulled as he turned left and walked purposefully down a shiny-floored hallway.
Her stomach felt heavy. More turns, more shiny floors, and he knocked at a door. A small man answered and after some discussion they were left to sit in a waiting room. Leigh was completely cowed by then and had stopped asking questions. As the minutes passed, she stilled in her chair, but Ahmet shifted constantly in his.
An hour later, one of the adjoining doors was pulled open by an uncovered woman who barked at Ahmet to come in. Leigh followed.
The woman sat behind a desk that filled most of the room. Ahmet and Leigh sat in two chairs before it. Startled, Leigh realized that this was the woman they’d come to meet. She was uncovered but she was not a prostitute- she was a prosecutor.
Fascinated, Leigh studied her as she leafed through a square book similar to a ledger or agenda. She was an exceptionally ugly middle-aged woman wearing big square horn-rimmed glasses. Leigh guessed that she was aware of her unattractiveness and had decided not to care. She had found ways to compensate: boldness, toughness, power. Her clothes were western-style- a red sweater with an expensive brown jacket and matching pants- and her body tested the seams.
Ahmet introduced Leigh. The prosecutor looked at her with flat eyes and clearly found Leigh to be lacking. She then opened a file and reviewed it, occasionally muttering angrily at Ahmet. Then she closed the file and berated Ahmet for a long time. He sat with his eyes downward, politely submissive and didn’t argue a single point.
Leigh still didn’t know how he had broken the law, but it was clearly very serious. She felt guilty and chastised herself, just sitting across from him, but the woman spoke far too quickly for her to understand. Leigh did hear the anger and warning tones though and she understood that next time Ahmet wouldn’t be given the option of a fine.
The woman stopped and glared at both of them. She was making up her mind. After a moment of silence she spoke to Ahmet, slammed the file shut, motioned to the door and picked up her phone.
Leigh thought they were to leave, but Ahmet didn’t stand up. As the woman spoke into the phone he leaned towards Leigh and explained. Some paperwork had already been completed by the woman, and she wanted a personal payment of $300.00 on top of the thousand they had brought with them.
“But we have only $1000. Will we get more at the carpet shop?”
“No, even $1000 is not all ours. We must pay some back to the shop by our working this summer.”
“Where are we going to get $300?”
“I will try some friend.”
As the woman slammed down her phone, Ahmet asked to use it. He made a couple of calls and the prosecutor provided her personal bank account number. The bribe was to be put directly into her account. She then called her bank, asking them to inform her the minute the money was deposited.
Ahmet was not permitted to leave her office. They waited on the modern cushioned chairs and watched the prosecutor work. She opened files, read reports, snarled into the phone and haughtily ignored them. Ahmet didn’t speak or smoke; no tea came.
As the hours went by, Leigh’s angst increased unbearably. She hated sitting and waiting. Ahmet continually glanced at the clock. If the money didn’t arrive by 5:00, it would be too late- he would go directly to jail.
At 4:00 Ahmet asked the woman to check her bank. She ignored him. He looked at the floor. Leigh considered going home alone. She’d have to find a bus. She still couldn’t drive a shift, despite Ahmet’s best efforts.
At 4:20 the phone rang. The money was there. Ahmet smiled; Leigh sighed. The prosecutor stood, stretched and told them that they needed a box of candy for the ladies who would complete the extra paperwork at this late hour. Hungry and annoyed now, Leigh wondered why she couldn’t have been told that earlier.
All three of them went to Ahmet’s car and got in, the prosecutor in the back seat. A lighter left on the dashboard had exploded in the sun. This brought only a shrug from the others, but Leigh could think of little else. She’d never known a lighter to explode in sun before. Did Turkey make defective lighters or was it that hot? What if she’d been sitting there? It had been right in front of her face and now plastic shards were everywhere.
The woman loudly pointed the way. They stopped quickly for a box of sweets at a pastry shop and then drove back to the complex of government buildings, parked and hurried into one that looked like all the others.
While they were rushing through the halls, the prosecutor’s heel broke on one of her shoes. She yelped and picked up the errant heel. Leigh was several steps behind and she soundlessly snickered. The prosecutor limped awkwardly down the rest of the hallways. Leigh enjoyed it immensely.
It was 4:45 when they arrived at a long counter where two women were packing up for the day. They accepted the candy and sat back down. Ahmet handed over $1,000 and the real paperwork began. Thirty minutes later, Ahmet and Leigh stepped out of the building, free of their escort, exhausted and elated, in dire need of tea and sigaras.
Leigh gave him hell once they were back in the car, but it was half-hearted. This was life with Ahmet and she loved the last-minute dramatic rescues. Her main complaint was hunger.
They didn’t hang around Eregli to eat, but headed for a cafeteria they’d passed on the highway, only an hour ahead. Ahmet sped but she didn’t mind- the motion was a relief for both of them.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed, hearing a siren behind them. She turned and moaned. “Damn, damn. It’s the police. Pull over.” All she could think was that they were in for hours of paperwork and she was too hungry to bear it gracefully.
“Ahmet! Stop the car! Shit, I am too hungry for this.”
Ahmet stepped harder on the gas and their speed increased. “I will not stop.”
“Stop the car! Haven’t we been in enough trouble today? We can’t afford more tickets.”
He hooted and grinned. “The girls are very slow today!” Truly happy, he took the car as fast as it would go.
“Stop the car!” yelled Leigh, scared of the speed now.
“If we stop we will get a ticket,” he argued, watching the road ahead.
“If we don’t stop we’ll have bigger problems.”
“No, no. They will radio ahead and make a blockade. There is police station in the next town.”
“A road block! Are you out of your mind? Stop the car!”
“Why? Look behind. They are lost.” He laughed and slapped the steering wheel.
He slowed a little. They argued as he drove. Ten minutes down the highway, they came upon a police car turned sideways across the road
“You see?” he thrilled. “They do this all for us!”
He was forced to stop by a thin police officer waving both arms.
The policeman came to his window and Ahmet rolled it down to greet him cheerfully. He demanded Ahmet’s driver’s license and registration. Ahmet told Leigh to look for them and he opened the door.
“Where are they?” She opened the glove compartment.
He glanced at her as he got out of the car. “License is at home.”
“Home! Where is the registration?”
He grinned at her. “I don’t have but you look.”
He turned to the officer, and they walked to the back of the car.
Talking aloud to herself about the follies of marrying foreigners, Leigh made a show of emptying the glove compartment. With maps, handwritten notes, a few utensils, some tissues, a single glove and a wrench on her lap, she touched the blue glass eye hanging from the rear-view mirror for luck and waited.The men were talking animatedly for so long that she put everything back into the compartment and then collected the blue plastic lighter shards from her seat, the floor and the dashboard, muttering all the while.
Finally Ahmet bounced into the car, laughing hard.
“Are we going to the station?”
He waved to the officer. “No.”
“Did you get a ticket?”
“No, just greetings for my family.” He started the car.
“He is from the village near to mine.”
She shook her head. “Can you just get me to the cafeteria without incident, please?”
“Yes, my Lady, benim Hanim, it is the time to celebrate now.”
And very shortly they did.

warding off the evil eye

warding off the evil eye