Road Trip to Edmonton

When I was a sales rep for publishers, I routinely made the road trip north from Calgary up Highway #2 to see customers in Edmonton. I drove to Edmonton again yesterday for the first time in many years and … not much has changed! Except for the highway name, as it’s now designated as “Queen Elizabeth II”.

I remembered too this short story I wrote during that time I was a rep, when I was inspired by the song One of Us I heard on CKUA Radio (my constant companion on all my Alberta driving trips!) performed by Joan Osborne, while I was on one of those many trips.

So today, as I was driving south once again along that same highway, I thought I’d reread this story when I arrived back where I’m staying … and make it available for others to read, if they’re interested.

Goes to show, you just never know how or when you’ll be inspired or discover a story that needs to be told.

Picking Up God on the Way to Edmonton

The 12-Step Program to Successful Self-Publishing – the talk and slide show

On Oct. 6th, 2015, I delivered the following talk and slide show at the Calgary Public Library. Here is the complete transcript as well as a list of further reading on the subject of self-publishing.

Talk for Calgary Public Library – blog version


Further Reading – blog version

Stephen King’s Reading List for Writers

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

The 12-Step Programme to Successful Self-Publication – Talk and panel discussion at CPL!

On Tuesday, Oct. 6th, I’ll be taking part in a talk and panel discussion at the John Dutton Theatre in the Central Branch (downtown) of Calgary Public Library!

Please join me and fellow panelists, Jasna Tosic and Randy McCharles, as we share our experience of having self-published our own books.

The 12-Step Programme to Successful Self-Publication

Tuesday, Oct. 6
7 – 8:30 p.m.

Join experienced self-publisher and author Susan Toy and self-published novelists Jasna Tosic and Randy McCharles for a practical panel discussion covering the 12 key steps of the self-publishing process.

This is a free event, but you must register with the library to attend.

10 ways to promote your novel for free


Some great ideas in one handy list for any author to consider if they’re trying to find “free” promotion for their books!

Originally posted on Helena Fairfax:

Sharon Boothroyd, along with her husband Keith, runs a free e-zine for fiction lovers called KISHBOO. The magazine has gone from strength to strength since its launch, and yet Sharon, as a canny Yorkshirewoman, has spent nothing at all on advertising.

Sharon kindly offered to share some of her promotional tips today. Thanks for dropping in with your advice, Sharon. (As a hard-pressed writer and fellow-Yorkshirewoman, you had me at the word “free”!)

* * *

helena fairfax, kishbookImage courtesy of Pixabay



by Sharon Boothroyd


Every writer must take publicity seriously.

I’m the editor of a non- profit (yet successful) e-magazine KISHBOO We launched our project in October 2014 – and guess what?

We haven’t paid a single penny for advertising.

Would you like free publicity? Here’s ten tips for you to follow:

1 Network

I already knew quite a few writers who…

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Let’s Bully the Bullies!

I was not planning on making any political comments publicly, even though there are three very important political races either happening or about to happen that will have an impact on me personally, and so many other people I know. (I am eligible to vote in two of these elections.) So, in keeping with my “silence is golden” policy, I won’t be mentioning any specific names here, but I do think it’s time to talk about this subject of political bullies that I’ve been contemplating for a while.

In 2012, I wrote the blog post, Deflating the Bullies, explaining my own experience with having been bullied, both during my school years and as an adult. Interesting that when I listed the types of bullies the victims encounter regularly, I also included political bullies.

The reason why I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately is, as I said above, there are elections being held that will affect me. There are also still far too many political bullies in power in a number of countries around the world who are using their elected positions to run rampant over their own citizens and the citizens of other countries.

What I cannot understand is why, oh why, after all the attention that bullying on a personal level has received, are we allowing people like this to run for political office – supporting them and voting them in … or back in, even after they’ve proven themselves to be nothing but “schoolyard” bullies who victimise others in order to get ahead and keep themselves in a position of power? (Some of these political bullies are still stealing our lunch money, only now it’s on a much grander scale of millions rather than just a few dollars.)

Have we not learned anything? We work hard to bully-proof our children, teaching them what to do when they’re bullied (ignore the bully and report their actions); we post signs in offices and other places of employment telling everyone that no form of abuse or harassment will be tolerated; there have been hundreds of news stories published and posted about the problem of bullying in general. Yet we allow known bullies to run for public office, even vote them into office, and then can’t get rid of them. (I could name a number of countries where this particular situation exists.) These bullies are absolutely not interested in your welfare or maintaining a functioning government in which they will serve the people who voted them into office. They are only interested in themselves, in stroking their own egos, lining their own pockets, and wielding power over everyone beneath them.

Surely the world deserves better than voting in yet another bully. Bad enough there are so many countries where bullies seize power, without the necessity of holding elections, and the people (their victims) can never get rid of them. Unless those bullies are forced out of office. Or assassinated.

So what if we were to start ignoring these political bullies? Or, better yet, call them out for the bullies that they are, and not allow them to run for office in the first place.

The entire world deserves better than being subjected to a bunch of schoolyard bullies!

Teach Your Children Well was originally written in September, 2012, as an entry for the 3-Day Novel Contest. I have decided to offer this novella as a free download Susan M. Toy – Teach Your Children Well after writing today’s blog post. It is hoped that Teach Your Children Well will resonate with readers who have either experienced bullying first-hand or been a witness to bullying, whether at school, in the workplace, or within their own family. If you are aware of a bullying situation, please speak up. Let’s expose the bullies for what they are and take away their power!


July- August Challenge


I was very honoured to be asked to critique entries in the Bahrain Creative Writers’ Group Challenge this summer. Seumas Gallacher is a member of this group and the reason I was invited to be a guest critiquer. It was definitely a pleasure to read the entry included below.

Originally posted on Bahrain Creative Writers' Blog:

Susan M Toy


Our reviewer for the single entry received for our July-August Challenge was Susan Toy – a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and a promoter of fellow authors and their books through her company, Alberta Books Canada. Susan is also an author and publisher, her imprints are IslandCatEditions and IslandShorts. Through Alberta Books Canada, Susan represented authors directly, helping them find promotion for themselves and their books, seeking out new readers, and assisting them in making wise career decisions.

Susan continues to promote authors and good books in general, throughout the world and online, on her blog, Reading Recommendations. She created the writing contest, Coffee Shop Author, has sat on the Board of Directors of the Fernie Writers’ Conference, served as a member of the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program steering committee, and was a member of the board of directors for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. She is now concentrating…

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What’s in it for THEM?

Whether you are writing and publishing a book, writing and producing a song or video, delivering a speech, posting to your blog, writing a status update on Facebook or tweeting a message on Twitter, friending or following someone, accepting friendship or returning a follow—or just connecting with anyone in some way or another . . .

Don’t ask what’s in this for you. It should always be:

What’s in it for THEM!

Always try to make it about the other person, no matter what you do. No one really wants to receive a message from you that they should buy your book/like you on Facebook/check out your website or blog. Really, they won’t want to. Not when they’ve only just “met” you. This is why I will unfollow or unfriend anyone who does send me a direct message (and the automated messages are the worst!) “telling” me to check out their new book or site before even bothering to thank me or having taken any time at all to check out my profile or show an interest in me first.

A fellow sales rep once told me a story of having been seated next to Tom Wolfe on a flight to their publisher’s sales conference. (And, yes, Wolfe was wearing his trademark white suit.) What amazed my friend about Wolfe was that their conversation revolved completely around … my friend: who he was, where he lived, what he enjoyed reading, how his job as sales rep worked for him. Then they talked about books and reading, but not about Wolfe or his books at all. What my friend realized was that Wolfe was completely involved in their conversation, but not at all involved in himself. I think Wolfe, for his part, was probably just acting upon those instincts he’d honed, as a journalist and novelist, and was observing, listening, maybe even looking for a story. Whatever the reason, Tom Wolfe won over a lifelong fan that day.

So what I’m getting at here is that you’re more likely to make friends and influence people, or find new readers/listeners/viewers for whatever it is you are writing and creating, by turning your pitch around and letting THEM know what you can offer that is different from all the others out there who are simply trying to convince everyone to Buy! Buy! Buy! This is so simple to do, too. Offer to review their book, if you’ve already read it, or even tell them you will promote it to your friends. Be like Tom Wolfe—ask THEM questions, show your interest in them. If you write a blog, ask them to be a guest. Share their status updates, like, and retweet what they post. (Although possibly not to the point of being stalker-like . . .) Trust me! This kind of flattery will get you everywhere!

Let’s all become more engaged with our friends and audience by turning the tables and always remembering to let them know first . . . What’s in it for THEM!

(This is actually a concept that is part of Permission Marketing and it’s well covered in the book of that name written by Seth Godin who coined the term in the first place. By following what I suggest above, you will find that people who do become your friends will then want to become readers and, if they enjoy what you write, will then become fans with an interest in anything you may produce in the future. And those fans will also likely look after your future promotion for you.)

Writer = Reader

You can be a Reader and not be a Writer.

You cannot be a Writer without being a Reader, first and always.

No exceptions. No arguments. No Ifs, Ands, or Buts.


We learn to read before we learn to write. We learn to write well by continuing to read, forever and ever. No excuses like, “I’m too busy writing to make time to read,” or “I don’t want to be influenced by another author,” or “I’m afraid if I read a book while writing this one I’ll lose my unique voice.” No, no, and no, I reply. Not good enough, because as I said above, No Exceptions! And that means you, as well as every other Writer.


Sorry to have to bring out the tough love, folks, but I’m tired of hearing these excuses from too many of you. And I’ve said it all before. If you want to learn how to write … read, read, read! But some seem to need to be reminded. Again.

In order to be able to write well, think of reading in this way: You would never allow an untrained surgeon, one who doesn’t keep up with the latest advances in medicine, to operate on you; Or what about mechanics who have not gone through a lengthy apprenticeship and maintained their qualifications? Would you allow them to work on your car? I thought not.


So consider reading to be a major part of the apprenticeship of writing. And continuing to read, even while you write, is something like taking Professional Development Days to further improve your writing–-except that reading a good book is a lot more fun than attending those boring meetings.


Please note that I assume you wish to WRITE WELL so that Readers understand and appreciate whatever it is you are writing. I know anyone can “write words” without reading, but can you “write well”? Aye, there’s the rub! Besides which, it’s not a badge of pride to say you never read books, especially if you call yourself a Writer. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”


And just to prove how important reading is to this Writer, here’s a photo of part of my personal library . . . The rest of my books are around the corner in the kitchen, in a Calgary storage unit, at my trailer, and on my eReader. Yes, I’m bragging. Some of those books have been with me most of my life, longer than many of the people I know. Comforting that they’ll always be with me. If not physically, they’ll continue to travel with me in my mind.


Looking for Readers in all the right places …

If you’ve written and published a book—and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve taken the traditional or self-published route—you’ll be anxious to find people who want to read that book . . . because that’s why you wrote it in the first place, right?

I’m not talking here about book sales and making money from what you’ve written, because as I’ve said many times before, most authors will be lucky to make enough from their writing to cover out-of-pocket cash expenses, let alone any kind of a profit at all. I’ve argued long and hard with those who express disappointment at the meagre return they’ve seen, if any, for all their labour, but I am going to repeat again here—money should not be the reason you write or publish. This is why I have also advocated for a “Most Read” list to determine a book’s success, rather than the “Best Selling” lists … which were, quite frankly, a rating system introduced by publishers who were totally interested in selling more “units” or “product” (their terms for books) rather than finding readers who actually appreciated the writing, the story, and the effort it had taken authors to write the books.

The reason I will continue to argue that finding readers for your work should be of the utmost importance is because readers generally tend to be buyers. So, eventually, if you find enough readers who enjoy what you’ve written and who share with other readers what they like reading, you will achieve more sales for what you publish. You just need to have patience—and quit beating everyone over the head about “buying” your book!

The other benefit to finding engaged readers is that they talk to their friends and tell them what they’ve read and enjoyed. Or they give books as gifts to other readers. So, in a sense, you create a “sales force” that begins small like a snowball—and is possibly imperceptible to you at first—that then builds momentum and grows into an avalanche before you know it . . . and with a lot less angst and badgering on your part than the “buy my book!” route takes. Trust me. This may take time, but it does work.

And where do you find these readers, you ask? First of all, you write a great book. Simple, huh?

I’m serious here … you write the very best book that you can, seek professional help in polishing the manuscript, in publishing the book, and become secure in the fact that you have produced the very best book that you can.

Read books by other authors (not only in the genre in which you write), promote the authors of the best of those books, help them find readers by becoming a reader yourself who enjoys telling their friends about great books. You can even go so far as I have done and write a blog about books—Reading Recommendations—and promote lots of authors even further. Build up a readership for your blog, for your Facebook status updates, for other social media sites. Become someone other readers regularly consult and listen to for their own reading recommendations.

Join like-minded reading sites (note, I said “reading” and not “writing” sites here) and talk about books in your own genre with other readers.

In the meantime, you’re writing and preparing your own book for publication, but you’re also working towards building up a sizable group of reading friends who may very well wish to read what you have written. So, when your book is released, there are people curious enough to take a chance and read it. But, more importantly, you’ve developed a fan base that, if it isn’t disappointed in your book, will become your cheerleaders who then tell their friends, thereby increasing the size of your fan base.

You may choose to offer advance reading copies to a select group of readers, but you should never make these gifts dependent upon receiving a review on Amazon. That’s my feeling about this whole “read for review” thing. If a reader enjoys what you’ve written, most will pass that information on to their friends, either by writing an online review or telling their own friends about it. You should never, ever, ever cajole reviews out of your readers, or make them feel as though they’re under some obligation to review your book favourably, once they’ve read it. You must understand that some readers feel uncomfortable about writing a review—whether they feel incompetent in being able to express their thoughts about the book, or they just don’t wish to have an online presence. Or … they really didn’t enjoy your book at all, but would rather not have you know that fact.

Do encourage those readers who are Internet-shy to write to you privately, whether they enjoyed the book or especially if they had issues with it. Whenever I’ve received glowing comments from readers by email, I’ve asked if I may reprint what they’ve had to say, either on my blog or even in promotion copy, always anonymously though, so that other potential readers have an opportunity to read their thoughts. And if what the reader tells me is critical, I discuss their points with them and learn from what they have not enjoyed in my books. I never argue with them, I never dismiss them as being wrong in their reading. Every reader reads in a different way. If they don’t get what we’ve written then it’s usually because we, the authors, have not been clear enough in our writing. We can always learn something about how to improve our writing, no matter whether the reader liked what they read or didn’t “get” us.

So, I’ve suggested how to find your initial core group of readers, and now you’re probably wondering how you continue to find new readers on top of that group, to continue the momentum. Here’s a handy-dandy list for you:

1. Continue to promote other authors. Yes, that’s right. Not only will you be doing those other authors a favour, but you’ll also attract their readers to read … your book.

2. Ask those other authors who you have promoted to promote you back, by interviewing you on their blogs, reading and reviewing your book, by attracting readers outside of your own geographical and social area. And since you’ve been involved in reading groups online all this time, you’ll have developed a group of friends who may also blog about books and invite you to be interviewed or promoted.

3. Approach librarians. Tell them who you are, show them your book (or give them the online links), offer to supply them with a free print copy for their collection or tell them how they may purchase a copy, if it’s being distributed by a library wholesaler. DO NOT—I repeat—DO NOT figure that making your book available to libraries will lead to direct sales of your book. What libraries can offer you is readers, and more exposure for your writing. Once you have a rapport with the library, see if they are amenable to having you organize a public reading or, better yet, a group reading for other authors in your area. (The reason I suggest making it a group reading is that each of you will attract your own audience and more readers who attend to hear one author will be attracted to the work of the others, as well. Bigger audience = more readers for everyone!) What you have to understand about libraries is that the only numbers that matter to them are the number of patrons who borrow books and the number o participants attracted by their programming. They want to make their patrons—the readers!—happy by offering a great collection and interesting programming. If you offer to make their job easier, as I’ve suggested, they will deliver the readers to you.

4. Do you belong to service groups? Or do you have friends who belong to them? Groups like this are always looking for speakers. Work up a talk you can give to any size group, whether the topic is your book, or a subject that arises out of having written that book, and offer to deliver that talk to their membership. Have your book available to purchase at the event. If your talk is good enough, inspirational enough, your books will sell. But you will also have added to your fan base, so be sure everyone receives your business card with links listed to your webpage, blog, etc. You never know who will follow up and contact you after the event. Or invite you to speak elsewhere …

5. If you are not comfortable speaking in public, that’s okay, because you’re a writer—so you can write copy for online magazines, print magazines, community newspapers, organizational newsletters, association and university newsletters and magazines. The sky is the limit, really. Just be sure that whatever you write offers value to the readers, and that information about you and your book, and an online link, is included in the by-line.

6. Make a point of purchasing books by other authors. This act in itself may not directly find you readers, but eventually word will get out that you are supporting your fellow authors, monetarily as well as by promoting them on your blog or reviewing their books. One author I know, who is both self-and-traditionally published, has publicly made of point of purchasing a self-published eBook once a month. He’s “giving back” to the community by doing so, but what he earns from me and other authors is a great deal of respect for essentially “putting his money where his mouth is” and actually buying books. How can we ever expect others to buy our books when we don’t purchase books ourselves?

7. Don’t be miserly! When you do find readers who have enjoyed your book, tell them about other, similar books or authors writing in the same genre. You will never lose those readers, but you will gain their trust and even friendship in some cases, if you consistently recommend books like yours that they may also enjoy. After all, writing and publishing should never be considered a competition. Nor should finding new readers be competitive. Again, I say you will never lose those readers who have read and enjoyed your book. You can only increase their numbers. Unless … you never write again.

8. Which brings us to the final point … You must continue to write! Don’t rest on your laurels, becoming a one-hit wonder, after all the hard work you’ve put into building your readership. Those readers will now be clamouring for more from you! So give them what they want and keep writing! (I’m trying to follow my own advice here and am continuing to work on preparing my second novel for publication.)

Trust me … if you follow my advice above, and concentrate on finding new readers for your work, the sales will come for your books, eventually, and the entire process will become less nail-biting and a whole lot more fun as you develop a career-long fan base that just can’t wait to read your next book.

That, to me, is far more rewarding, and a good indication that I am becoming successful as an author.

*NB – ALL my suggestions above should cost you next-to-no money at all to implement. So other than investing time and initiative, any sales you do make as a result, after you’ve covered your earlier expenses, will be pure profit. And even if you are traditionally published, these are all ideas you can utilize above-and-beyond whatever your publisher offers to do for you. You’re welcome.

After writing this, I discovered another blogger had written similarly on the topic in Five golden principles of audience engagement.

An update on roasting coffee beans in a pizza oven on Bequia

Way back in December, 2013, I published this guest blog post written by Dennis Ference about his adventures with coffee production on St. Vincent and roasting beans in our own pizza oven.

He held back some of the beans for planting and has been tending to about seven trees that are growing in our garden and next door. He’s thrilled to now report that beans have formed on our plants!

8 Sept 15 165

8 Sept 15 163

“There’ll be about enough for one pot of coffee, once the beans ripen and are roasted,” he tells me. So he’s not ready just yet to become the next Juan Valdez, and we won’t be in the market for a donkey.

I wonder if cats could ever be trained to carry those bags to market … Definitely not Zoom, but Emme might do it. This would be more Zoom’s style.


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