Category Archives: Editors

A new story by Michael Fay!

island shorts II

IslandShorts has just finished preparing another ePublication of a long-form short story written by J. Michael Fay!

Human Powered Design is formatting the eBooks and will list them for sale online.

As with Michael’s other publications, once again the original cover art was provided by Karen Sloan of Wallflower Studio Art in Minden, ON.

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The incomparable Rachel Small, Faultless Finish Editing, provided the final editing and proofing services.

Here’s the synopsis, Michael’s bio, and an advance-reader blurb:

Dan James graduates from college in 1967, a time of major conflicts in the US, when friends are being drafted to fight in the war in Vietnam. Dan, however, chooses to become involved in a different fight, one for human rights. He eventually heads north to Canada, a place where he can pursue a life working for the betterment of all. But also a place where the conflicts turn out to be much more personal.

Draft Dodger? is the next in Michael Fay’s series of long-form short stories, following Passion, The Whirlabout and The Healer. Along with Tenderness, all have been published by IslandShorts.

Michael Fay studied creative writing with W. O. Mitchell, Alice Munro, and Richard Ford and was also the founder of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society in Calgary. Michael lives in Minden, Ontario, with his wife, Dr. Fay Martin.

Sparkling dialogue and detailed scenes evoke the 1960s in this tale of tested loyalties – loyalties to friends, to country, and to ideals. The Vietnam War overshadows two young men’s dreams, from the white columns of the graduation prom to the red blood of cracked heads at a demonstration, as boyhood rivals Dan and Graham trade quips, barbs and lovers. ~ Penney Kome, author and journalist

From the perspective of today, we look back on the sixties with nostalgia … free love, demos in the streets, back to the land communes and so much more. But often, the vision, as seen through the six decades that separate us from those days, play tricks with our memory. Writer Michael Fay brings it all back into sharp focus showing us the disappointments, the illusions and tempered idealism that was in fact the reality in the season of Peace Love and Rock n Roll.
~ Jack Brezina, retired editor and publisher

We’re just waiting for a few more bits of information to come in before pressing the “Publish” button. If you’re interested in this new eBook by Michael Fay, please stay tuned and check back to this blog where we’ll be announcing the exact publishing date and availability online, once we have all the links and information.

Please check out the previous publications from IslandShorts by clicking here for the list of eBooks and where to purchase. As we like to say …

For a Great Read, Slip Into Our Shorts!

(If you would like to read to review any of our publications please contact me directly: susanmtoy (at) gmail.com)

Finally!! The wait is over … nearly

It’s been one-month-and-a-day since I wrote this Guest Post on Seumas Gallacher’s blog, in which I listed the 10 ways I was dealing with having to wait for my editor, Rachel Small, to finish her edit of my recently completed novel, One Woman’s Island (the second in the Bequia Perspectives series).

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I’m happy to tell you now that Rachel did get that manuscript back to me in plenty of time so I could revise and fix it up to meet the deadline for a contest I linked to in this earlier blog post. And I did make it, too – with an entire day-and-a-half to spare!

And so I wait … again. But this time only for another week until the shortlist is announced. Once I know my novel’s fate, I’ll be able to determine when I can go ahead and ePublish.

In the meantime, I’ll be sorting through ways to promote this new book and figure out how I’m going to afford the cost of printing copies, for those who prefer print .. and for The Bequia Bookshop to sell, come tourist season.

I’ve also been helping both Tim Phillips and Michael Fay publish new eBooks through IslandCatEditions and Island Shorts.

And I’m making changes in my head to the third Bequia Perspectives novel, Tropical Paradox. But there’s a great deal of work yet to be done on the manuscript, so don’t expect to hear an announcement about that any time soon!

A PDF of One Woman’s Island is circulating among a few trusted friends/readers (especially those who know Bequia) and I’m hoping for an honest opinion of the book in advance of publishing. I’ll also ask to use any favourable comments in future promotion once the eBook is released. Already I’ve been sent over-the-top comments from one Bequia friend who read a pre-edited version, so I’m hoping other advance readers will be similarly pleased with this new novel. I’m all goose-pimply now, waiting for their comments …

But at least this time I haven’t had to mow the lawn to pass the time, since Dennis has been visiting the trailer. We did decide yesterday to subscribe to the park’s internet service though and, as predicted, I’ve been online pretty much the entire time since we first logged in. So pathetic. One thing is that being online (mostly playing on Facebook) does pass the time. While I wait.

And they do say that good things come to those who wait. Here’s hoping THEY are correct!

A Tail (ahem!) Tale of 5 Self-Published Books …

Recently I read 5 self-published eBooks—all good books in their own way—but 4 of these suffered from “problems” that in my estimation could have been easily rectified. As it was, these problems were enough to diminish my satisfaction in reading what should have been very good books. Without mentioning the authors’ names or their book titles (except for the perfect book!), let me explain what I mean. (I did finish reading every book I list here, but with varying degrees of satisfaction.)

The first book is one I had known about for some time and had even beta-read material in advance to help the author organize and substantively edit in preparation for publication. I read a free Kindle edition. While I thoroughly enjoyed what was written—both the subject matter and the stories told (this was non-fiction about a particular time and place in the author’s life)—I realized that the author had not taken to heart anything of what I’d previously mentioned in my beta-read comments, in particular, getting a professional edit (and presumably the author did not pay attention to what others may have mentioned). The copy editing was poor to non-existent in places. The material was poorly organized and there was a great deal of repetition. I was disappointed in what could have been a very good book. The saving grace was the subject matter, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The second book was the first foray into self-publishing for a long-time non-fiction author with a great many books traditionally, and successfully, published. I borrowed this eBook from the library, so it was an ePub version supplied through Overdrive. The book itself was perfect. Not one single editing problem that I could discern—not surprising, given the author’s background in having been an editor himself. The actual “problem” with this book was the poor formatting job done by whichever company prepared the eFiles for this author. (Their name was listed on the copyright page, but I have completely forgotten it now.) This may be difficult to explain if you have never read an eBook borrowed from a library. Usually, eBooks are divided into sections (generally chapters) and the number of pages in each section is shown (1 of 27) on the bottom right-hand corner, with the overall percentage of the book read tallied (1%) on the bottom left-hand corner. In the case of this eBook, every section had been formatted as though it were a separate book, so when I reached the end of a chapter the Overdrive reader told me I had finished reading the entire book and I was unable to “turn” the page to the next section. I had to keep going back to the Table of Contents each time I finished reading a section and click on the next chapter to open it. The Overdrive reader also didn’t automatically “bookmark” which section I had previously finished when I returned to reading again after shutting off the computer. So this caused a great deal of frustration to me, the reader, who was otherwise enjoying a perfectly fine book. And I felt sorry for the author who I know must have paid a pretty penny to have this book ePublished. I will tell the author of this problem, because I know him personally. I have no idea as to whether the same problem exists for the Kindle version.

The third book was a mystery/thriller I downloaded from Amazon for free. I had never heard of the author, but was attracted by the setting and story line, both of which were original to me. The author has since published three other novels in this series. This particular book I read was the first and originally published in 2011, presumably in eBook format only—the information is not given as to whether there is a print edition. The book began well-enough, but I quickly realized that a professional editor had never checked the MS before it was published. A few incorrect words had been used, but especially homonyms were used erroneously in many places (the word sounded as though it was correct when you read a sentence aloud). And these problems continued throughout, even increasing in the second half of the book. It was obvious to me that no one besides the author had read the manuscript before it was published. The sad part of all this is that the eBook was, as I mentioned, published in 2011—the author has had 5 years to correct all those mistakes!! As much as I wanted to read more stories about these particular characters set in this location, I’ll be steering clear of any more books by the author who obviously does not care about the quality of the work that’s put out there for readers to read.

(Really, it’s important to remember your readers, folks! Make your writing the very best it can be by producing quality work that doesn’t make your readers cringe. If you don’t care enough about us, why should you expect us to care about what you write?)

The fourth book I read was another free download from Amazon by an author I didn’t know previously. (There were horses on the cover. I was attracted to the book by those horses and that the book was a mystery in a western US setting.) It was a good book! I was pleasantly surprised, because it was actually listed as a religious book—a genre I likely would not have read, had it not been for those horses on the cover! And therein lies the problem with this book and why I’ve included it in this list: the genre selected actually limited the possible audience for the book. Yes, the characters were churchgoers and there was a tiny bit of praying, but the overall story itself, and the characters, were like a typical western written by Zane Grey or an episode of the old TV series, Bonanza. In fact, it was about as religious as either of those. No blaspheming but also no preaching or morals presented. Lot of horses, though! So I was more disappointed for the book than in it.

And the fifth of the self-published eBooks I read is an example of how good these books can be when the author does take care and produces a great book. While the book was originally written by this author a long time before eBooks ever became a Thing, he very wisely set aside the manuscript for more than a decade while he honed his craft and published a number of other novels first. When he hauled out this book again, he was able to work through and completely rewrite the story. Also, a number of friends, me included, offered to beta read, and … he listened to us! At least, I know he listened to some of my suggestions. Plus, he also paid for a professional edit of the manuscript. The result was near perfection! I read the finished eBook (Kindle version) and was delighted to see that the story now read very well, and I could count on one hand the number of copy editing mistakes and/or typos that remained in the text. The book? It’s Full Circle by Tim Baker! (I have already told him privately of my reading experience and congratulated him on creating a novel that was a pleasure to read. Great cover design, too, although no horses …)

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So, after having read 5 very different eBooks by self-published authors, that’s my assessment. Some of you may think I’m being overly nit-picky in my reading, but I don’t believe I’m being any more critical than most average readers. The main difference is that I write to a blog so I can tell you whatever I think about various aspects of writing and publishing. And I’m an author myself. I think it’s up to every author to care about what they offer readers, and present them with the very best quality possible. As I mentioned above, if you care then your readers will care.

Since I first conceived of the idea for this blog post, I’ve also read a traditionally published print book written by an author who has a long career of successful books. You might think that a book like this, written by a name-author and published by one of the Big 5 publishing companies … and in a print format (so not quite that easy to correct), would have received a thorough editing/proofing session before publication. After all, editing and proofing are part of the publisher’s responsibilities (and expenses) and not up to the author to worry over, as is the case of self-published authors. Unfortunately, there were quite a number of errors in this book—missing words, missing punctuation, misspelling … I lost track. I know that the publisher is to blame for this shoddiness, but it still all reflects back on the author, doesn’t it? I know I wouldn’t be happy if a publisher thought so little of me that they didn’t do that last final check of the manuscript before printing. So it’s not just self-published authors who experience these problems incurred by publishing before their book is ready.

As carpenters like to say, Measure twice, cut once. It’s definitely worth taking that extra time of having another (professional) set of eyes go over your manuscript, or to consult with you on the structure, formatting, design or listing. Well worth it! Your readers will thank you by wanting to read more of what you write!

(And if you try to use the excuse that you can’t afford to pay what a professional edit will cost, well I say to you that you can’t afford to publish without one. If that’s the case, and the money is difficult (and I totally understand that it can be tough—it has been for me, too), then in that case you should wait to publish. Sorry to say, but this is the reality of the business. It’s just not worth it to put a half-baked loaf of bread out there and hope no one notices the still-doughy centre.)

Besides, you’ve got to love an editor—MY editor, as it happens!—who has an attitude like this!

Ed Quote for Susan 02 Framed

A small request of all my readers …

iitcYes, I know this news is going to be hard to believe, but after 4 years in publication (both as an eBook and in print) Island in the Clouds will finally have a sister-novel to share your shelf or space on your eReader! I finished writing an umpteenth draft of One Woman’s Island a week-and-a-half ago and now it’s in the hands of my editor, Rachel Small. I think at this point in time, after writing and rewriting the story of Mariana on Bequia these past 12 years, I’m more relieved than excited. Now comes the ultra hard work of preparing the final edited manuscript for ePublication, sometime later this year.onewomanisland-cover-draft-3

That publication date has been moved back further, however, because yesterday I discovered this link to a competition for which the new novel qualifies. But the novel needs to be unpublished. Might as well give that a shot first, I thought. What is there to lose? Other than more time before I can actually publish it.

18598024So, while I wait for the edit to be completed and the MS to be prepared for submission to this contest, I figured it was as good a time as any to promote my writing in general, and build more awareness of the Bequia Perspectives Novels as well as my IslandShorts novella, That Last Summer. And this brings me around to my “request” in the blog post title …

If you have read either Island in the Clouds or That Last Summer (or both!) and enjoyed reading them – but you haven’t yet posted a review online about either, I would appreciate you doing so now, on Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, your library’s website, or your own blog. I’m hoping to build up awareness for my writing in general so when I begin promoting the publication of One Woman’s Island I have a solid fan base in place who will do the heavy-lifting of informing and, hopefully, exciting different readers about the new book. If you have already posted something to do with me or my writing on your own blog I have likely added that link to this page or this one. If your interview or review are not listed there, please let me know so I can include you.IS (Also, now available as an eBook, One Woman’s Island!)

Now, I know some readers are shy and don’t want their thoughts and opinions posted in public, and especially not online. I appreciate and understand that feeling! If you have read my books though and enjoyed them enough to want to tell me about that enjoyment, then please send me an email (susanmtoy (at) gmail.com). Your review can be as brief as you’d like to make it. And I promise never to divulge your name if you want to remain anonymous, but do let me know if I may post and quote your comments on my blog – without your name attached! – so potential readers have a chance to see what “someone” thinks of my books and my writing. Whatever you decide, please do write and tell me whatever it is that you think. The best way for any author to improve is to listen to comments made by their readers. After all, it’s you we’re writing for in the first place!

What I hope to achieve by all this, of course, is a build-up of word-of-mouth promotion. You who are already satisfied readers will become, I hope, the foot soldiers in my campaign to promote the new book. If you DO want me to quote you in future publicity then let me know I may use your name. A review with a real name has so much more credibility, and I’ll be using the best of those as bullets (not real gun bullets, of course!) and endorsements when I finally do release the next book in my Bequia series.

The other way for you to become involved in this promotion campaign of mine is by telling your friends about my books, and encouraging them to read what I’ve already published. Then, if they like what they read, they will anticipate the future publication of my books. A readership is something we authors build one reader at a time … and by writing books readers enjoy reading.

So thanks to everyone for reading through my post, and for any help you may be able to offer.

And remember … I am but one author out here who is writing and publishing. There are many, many others who can also use a hand in the promotion of their books. Never discount the effect your personal recommendation has on any book you read and enjoy. Please don’t keep that enjoyment to yourself – tell others about it! An author’s success may just depend on your initial recommendation! (I feel so strongly about this concept that I created the Reading Recommendations blog.) And for those of you who would like to take this a step or two further, here are 99 Ways to Spread the Word About a Book You Love.

Thanks for reading – and commenting and reviewing! I could never have come this far without all of you loyal readers, and I appreciate every single one of you!

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So, what did you do yesterday?

Me? Funny you should ask … I finished gathering together the necessary materials, checked one last time to see that everything was as correct as it could be, assigned two ISBNs for ePub and mobi editions, and sent off all the files via email to Human Powered Design in Calgary for formatting. I received an immediate reply from Gina telling me that, not only had she received our submission, but the job was already in the queue and will likely be seen to within this next week. Which means we will have a finished eBook all ready and listed for sale well before the projected date of March 1st I had originally suggested would be the case. Hooray!!

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So here’s our first announcement for this new publication, folks!

A new longform short story, written by J. Michael Fay, and titled Passion, will be published by IslandShorts, and we are very excited about this!!

As with Michael’s other publications, once again the original cover art was provided by Karen Sloan of Wallflower Studio Art in Minden, ON.

Michael - Art for Passion -ks A

The indomitable Rachel Small, Faultless Finish Editing, provided the final editing and proofing services.

And here’s a little peek at what all the excitement is about … the synopsis and a few blurbs from advance readers of Passion!

1963 is a pivotal year for Dan James. Believing his destiny was set at the age of eleven when he stood next to his father’s coffin, he enters the seminary at seventeen to become a priest. A well-read fellow seminarian and the world-shaking event later that year cause Dan to question his true passion in life.

Passion is the next in Michael Fay’s series of long-form short stories, following The Whirlabout and The Healer. Along with Tenderness, all have been published by IslandShorts.

Michael Fay studied creative writing with W. O. Mitchell, Alice Munro, and Richard Ford and was also the founder of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society in Calgary. Michael lives in Minden, Ontario, with his wife, Dr. Fay Martin.

This is a thoroughly engaging story about a young man’s coming of age and discovering while enrolled in a seminary that his calling is not for the priesthood but for literature and writing. One can smell the incense in the chapel and hear footsteps echoing in the stone hallways while young Dan James wrestles with his decision before walking out into a world with much to relish, treasure and describe.
~ Dennis Gruending, journalist and author of Pulpit and Politics

What a vivid evocation. Detail, precision, clarity, and echoes of Joyce: the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. Youth discovers vocation. Nice!
— Ken McGoogan, author of Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation

In the story of Dan James and his time in the seminary, Michael Fay explores the moment a young man steps into adulthood, and captures with grace and insight the realization that a vocation needn’t be holy to be true.
— Kim Pittaway, award-winning journalist and editor

So, there you have it! It’s not just every day that we at IslandShorts get to press “send” on a new publication! If you’re interested in this new eBook by Michael Fay, please stay tuned and check back to this blog where we’ll be announcing the exact publishing date and availability online, once we have all the links and information.

And if anyone is interested in previous publications from IslandShorts just click here for the list of eBooks and where to purchase. As we like to say …

For a Great Read, Slip Into Our Shorts!

(Anyone interested in reading to review any of our publications please contact me directly: susanmtoy (at) gmail.com)

From the vaults – Publication dreams, and delusions … May 22, 2011

Since I’ve been talking and working with a couple of newly published authors recently, and have written guest posts and given talks on getting your work published, I thought I’d have a look at the process I went through. So I’ve hauled out this blog post I wrote in the early days, when actually seeing my writing in print (these were pre-eBook days, folks!) was still only a pipe dream, but a dream that was shared with many talented friends. Here’s where the design ideas began forming for my first novel, Island in the Clouds, and how an initial concept became the reality. I never did find a traditional publisher interested enough in my manuscript, so I self-published instead and was able to work with that original idea Jenny and I developed a few years before. I have always been pleased with the final result and constantly receive compliments on it! Full credit goes to my friend, Jenny Ryan!

I was chatting online with Jenny Ryan this morning – she in Ottawa and me in Calgary. It’s been too long a time! We first met online while taking the Ryerson Publishing Certificate courses, and have only met in person once, when we were both in Toronto. We hope to meet again this summer, in Toronto, but in the meantime, we caught up today on all of the various things that are happening in our lives right now.

Jenny has always been a terrific designer – she’s a natural at it – having a good eye for cover design even during that first course in Trade Publishing, when we were members of the same “publishing team” set with the task of developing a new list of books for our final assignment. Since graduating, Jenny went on to form a design business, Copper Canary Publishing Services, but now works as a freelance designer. She’s been along with me, almost since the beginning, for this crazy write-and-get-the-damn-novel-published ride I’ve been on, and is a constant source of ideas, comments, criticism, and encouragement the entire time.

I remembered recently that she had also designed a cover for my first mystery novel, Island in the Clouds, just for fun and using a photo I had taken. Here it is …

At that time, I was planning on using my initials for my writing name – until another editing friend pointed out the rather unfortunate double entendre presented by the juxtaposition of those initials with my last name. So now I go by Susan M. Toy instead, there being other SusanToys out there in the world, with a couple of them also being published authors. Yes, I too was surprised by that discovery. Which is why we should all google our names. And why I must now include my initial.

But I still love this particular cover design, and Jenny and I did have fun working on it together. Just as any good publisher/writer relationship should be!

And while this novel may never be published, let alone that this particular cover design be used if I do find a traditional publisher, it makes the entire publishing dream feel as though it’s one step closer to reality.

Thanks, Jenny!

And dreams do have a way of coming true, sometimes! Here’s the final cover (but with a slightly different photo taken by Dennis). It’s all Jenny’s design though, front and back! And that was Jenny’s idea to add the #1 at the top of the spine, too. To keep me working on the rest of the series … Ahem!

island clouds cover spread with spine final

Oh, Readers … Take 2

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In Jan. 2015, I published the blog post, Oh, Readers … Where Art Thou?, that I wrote with the assistance of my editor, Rachel Small. At the time, it received a huge number of views, likes, shares, reblogs, and became one of the more poplular posts I’ve published on this blog. I had promised a follow-up of answers to my questions that I compiled from a few of my steadfast followers, and I even set up a draft page, hoping to publish not too long after that first post was released. But life does have a way of intervening in any best-laid plans, so I’m just getting around to revising and posting this update now – almost 12 months later! My apologies to my blog readers. It seemed like a good time though to reconsider this topic of Readers and Authors and how they find one another, because I also dusted off and reshared another post on the subject that I wrote way back in Jan. 2014, Between Authors and their Readers. I know I’m giving you a lot of reading here, but I would appreciate it if you would consider all three blog posts and either comment below, write about this topic on your own blog (and add your blog link in the comments below, or write a guest post for me to post here in the future.

**Since the other two posts were published, I have created a new blog, reading recommendations reviewed, that offers reviews of books by authors who have been previously featured on Reading Recommendations.

In response to the questions posed in that first blog post of this series, Oh, Readers … Where Art Thou?, here are a couple of responses I solicited from friends I’ve met through social media. I asked them for their thoughts, because I knew both would have something of value to add to this discussion. Rebecca Heishman lives in the US and is an author I’ve featured on Reading Recommendations. She reads a great deal and we’ve held a number of email discussions about books, reading, writing and authors. roughseasinthemed lives in Gibraltor, is an editor, reviewer, journalist, and blogger who is very passionate about the written word. She writes a terrific blog with a huge following of both authors and readers from around the world. (**Please see comments below for more from roughseas.) Both women have read and favourably reviewed my writing in the past. Here are their thoughtful comments:

From Rebecca Heishman:
It’s my own personal opinion that the market is flooded with mediocre writers who bombard potential readers with commercialism. As a reader, I’ve grown weary of it myself. I’ve made a point of downloading books by indie authors who sound promising. Some of the books are poorly edited. I’m no editor, but even I can see the flaws. I had to stop reading one because it was a horrible mess. My head is about to explode from all the author ego out there, on Twitter, especially.

Writers keep wondering where the potential readers are — I think that many of them have tuned us out. I’m overwhelmed with potential reading material available all over the WEB. I suppose a lot of people are. I don’t know what the answer is. I know that I’ve stopped promoting my own work here. It wasn’t working for me. I believe that a struggling economy has a lot to do with it. Buying a book at a retail price is truly a luxury for me now. I know I’m not alone in that. Even my little niche market is suffering. People simply don’t have the money for paperbacks, and the market is flooded with eBooks now. we are living in a world where we are saturated with pleas from people wanting to sell us things. It’s my belief that many of our potential readers are simply tuning it all out and making their choices in their own personal ways.

There are excellent indie writers out there who are not getting the publicity that their writing deserves because there is a boatload of mediocre writing that’s hitting the market on a daily basis. I am, in no way, saying that these writers don’t deserve a chance to get out there and sell their work. I’m simply saying that, from my own current reading experience, it is harder and harder for me to find really good books to read. And, trust me, I’m not picky. I just think that some of these folks are caught up in the ‘romance’ of the idea of being an author. They are not putting in the work. They are not hiring editors. Some of them are sad and pathetic egomaniacs.

I find that true of some of the bloggers. There are bloggers who love nothing more than to read their own blog posts. It’s ego all the way with some of these folks. There are bloggers who are posing as ‘experts’ in fields in which they obviously are not. They speak with great authority about subjects they know little about. But, that’s free speech, and I’m all for that. I’ve learned to not take some of these folks so seriously. I consider myself more of an entertainer than a writer. I’m not Shakespeare, and I know it. I’ll never win the Pulitzer. My work won’t change anyone’s life. I believe that there are writers out there (mostly the younger ones) who have fallen in love with the idea of being writers. They take themselves very seriously and they aren’t necessarily enjoying the ride. They dive into being authors without proper preparation. They stink up the show for writers with true talent.

From roughseasinthemed:
You have a lot of questions there, and I think it is too much for a comment reply. I’ve got two professional interests, reviewing (minor), editing, (major). Good questions!

1. How do you decide what to read next?
To be honest, anything that earns money. As a reader though, I pick randomly.

2. Do you belong to a book club? If so, do you read more than just the club’s selections? And is the club open to suggestions from you and other members?
No.

3. Do you stick to a single genre or type of book (fiction, non-fiction, YA, children’s) or are you willing to read around and try out new genres?
Read pretty much anything. I like to be open-minded.

4. Do you only read books by authors you are familiar with, or do you experiment with new authors, debut authors, foreign authors, the classics?
I’ll read anything. I consume books quickly.

5. Do you read books on bestseller lists or in the Oprah’s Book Club list, books reviewed in newspapers and magazines or on radio and TV, and books reviewed on blogs or online sites promoting books, such as Goodreads?
What’s Oprahs book club? Seriously. I don’t care two hoots about Oprah. Or, in the UK, Richard and Judy. Pre-Internet I did buy books after reading newspaper reviews.

6. Do you follow the advice of friends who read?
No.

7. Do you browse bookstores?
Yes.

If so, what makes you pick up a book off the shelf? Do you ask the staff for advice?
No.

Do you borrow books from the library
Yes.

and ask librarians for advice?
No.

9. Do you attend author events – readings, signings, festivals?
Festivals yes.

10. Do you write reviews for books you’ve read (whether you enjoyed them or not) and have you ever written directly to an author to let him or her know how you felt about the book? (Did you receive a reply?)
Yes, yes, yes.

12. How important is it to know a book has been professionally produced (edited, designed, and published professionally)?
What do you think? *vested interest alert* I edit.

13. Do you reread favourite books?
Yes

And a few of the comments left on that first post:

Ines – All good questions! I read a very wide variety of books mainly thanks to belonging to a book club. This has opened me up to being more adventurous with my book choices again as I’d got a bit stuck in a rut going for a certain genre.

Things that make me a choose a book include: if it’s in the front of a book shop where the bookshop has laid out a variety of different books (and independents are great for this) and it catches my eye; book magazines (available in book shops) that give a brief outline of books; online reviews such as those by newspapers (eg. the Guardian), other things like lists of the best of 2014 etc; friend or relative recommending; prize winners such as Costa, Waterstones or Booker, Pulitzer etc; a certain genre that I particularly like and which will make me look for new authors and this for me is Scandi-crime; if I like a particular author I usually read most/all of their work.

While online reviews etc are useful there’s nothing quite like that experience of browsing in a book shop and picking up something that you’d never normally read. I also often go for debut novels.

Carol Hagans – I normally browse bookstores and libraries where a title or cover may catch my attention then I read the front and back cover and flap intro. Recently I have been reading local Flagler authors; Food for a Hungry Ghost by Becky M. Pourchot; Libbie the Rare Yellow Lobster by Marybeth Jeitner and Heather Chalmers and Chasing Butterflies in the Magical Garden by Jorja Dupont Oliva, there are others on to-read-list. I have never written a public review but have sent an email to an author.

Betsi Newberry – I find new books by trolling Amazon, checking out ones mentioned in magazines or recommended by friends. I seldom go to a book store because I read almost everything on my e-reader. I don’t stick to one genre unless the mood hits me. But that doesn’t last long and I am on to something else. Lately I have been reading a lot of “how to” books related to formatting books for Kindle Direct and CreateSpace. But I always read fiction in the evening because my head can only hold so much about fonts, paragraph spacing, social media, and badges for my blog.

I don’t belong to a book club although maybe I should because it would get me out of the house and away from this laptop occasionally.

Four Freedom Publishing

Hubert O’Hearn, previously featured on Reading Recommendations, has launched a new publishing company. Here he is to tell us the story behind the inspiration for, and how he’s set up, Four Freedom Publishing.

Readers and Authors rejoice!

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Write the Silence/Right the Wrong:
The Four Freedom Publishing Story

by Hubert O’Hearn

Prologue:

It was just as the sun was setting on the second of three days with no electricity, no internet and no food when I realized that life was presenting me with two options: die or launch a publishing company. And here you thought a Harvard MBA was tough?

Journal Entry One:
October 19/2015

The business of writing is hard enough when you can see what you’re doing, but this? The power is off because I have no money and Electric Ireland’s system of taking payments by credit card is disabled. Of course I sent them an emergency email with the dying breaths of my laptop battery but … no response. It’s someone else’s problem and not theirs; it is mine.

I had moved to Ireland from Canada at the end of 2012 in order to live two experiences. I wanted to live in the country I had fallen in love with when I was ten years old and I was going to do it as a writer. There had been just enough writing success in Canada to convince me that if I truly dedicated myself to just that, I could do it: twelve years as a newspaper columnist, six produced plays, several publications running my book reviews, and a decent CV of speech-writing and other This Gun for Hire work.

It’s funny now when I look back at how I arrived nearly three years ago. My bank account was fat, the first house rented was huge, there was even a Jaguar parked in my driveway. Then, a whole lot of circumstances went wrong, more than need describing here. Suffice it to say that by the time my dog Stella and I had, to use the polite term, simplified our lifestyle by moving into a low rent yet comfy duplex cottage in County Mayo I had learned that one really can live without most of what you might think of as ‘necessities.’ Yes, I had become poor and yet, I was (and am) having the time of my life.

I’m no good at reciting poetry from memory – not even my own work – however I do have a deep fondness for T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, particularly this section:

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

That was where I lived, in the Shadow. I knew who I had been and I equally knew who I wanted to be, yet I was no longer there and was not yet there. I was where I was – taking any writing assignment I could get. There were web content articles, editing books and articles, reviews, interviews, ghostwriting, advertising, receiving a contract to publish a book of poetry (yay!) and watching its sales fail (boo!), coaching writers, teaching, even entering contests provided there was no entry fee. And my ego told me: You’re a goddam great writer and your day will come!

Journal Entry Two:

This is one of those really special moments in a man’s life when he sits back and thinks, “You know, maybe somewhere along the line I might have made a mistake or two.”

Yeah well, could be. On the other hand, if I’d had it to do all over again I’d probably have just done it all again. Maybe take more pictures next time, and more detailed notes for when life brought me right here again.

A Brief Philosophical Statement

The single smartest piece of advice I have ever been told came from my beautiful friend Lydia Cornell (yes that Lydia Cornell). Lydia and I have been ‘sore arm buddies’ for years now, picking one another’s spirits up during various crises. So Lydia one day either said to me or wrote to me the following:

There aren’t good things or bad things that happen to us. There are just things. Whether they turn out to be good or bad depends on what we do with them, how we choose to see them.

Remember that one the next time you feel that ev’ryone’s agin’ me. When something happens that adversely affects your plans, consider that it occurred as an outcome of your life. Perhaps instead of viewing that seemingly nasty episode as some sort of punishment, view it instead as a message for change.

Amen and onwards.

The True Origin of Four Freedom Publishing

Four Freedom Publishing really began as an outcome of a ghostwriting project I was hired to create. Please forgive me for not supplying all the details, however revealing a client’s name or the book title truly goes against the ghostwriter’s creed.

In any event, I was hired by a client to write, format and publish a book on sports. Great fun! I have often said that in my heart of hearts I am a sportswriter; indeed one of my favourite assignments of all-time was when I was a regular columnist covering TNA wrestling for PWTorch.com.

I wrote the book and went to CreateSpace to put it together. While filling in all the various fields I came to the one labeled Publisher. Years of reviewing books had taught me that any book that listed CreateSpace as its publisher was, odds on, likely to be a piece of hastily and badly written crap. (There have been exceptions. Off the top of my head, out of some hundred or so that I have been assigned I can think of … two.) Therefore, on the spur of the moment I decided to do my client a favour and invent a third party publisher.

Since moving to Ireland I had been working steadily on a collected series of essays titled For Freedom: A Human Rights Reader 1948-2015. I’m getting slightly ahead of myself, but you can find it on Amazon and I’d be frankly delighted if you did as it is a very, very good book. The publisher who had agreed to release For Freedom was in financial difficulty, so there were delays involved there which culminated in the manuscript returning to my hands. As such, it was in the back of my head to release it on my own. At a certain point, you just want to be free of the bloody thing. (If you are a writer yourself, you’ll understand. If you’re not a writer, imagine the manuscript as your child trapped in permanent, noisy adolescence leaving you longing for the day when the little arsehole moves out of the house.)

I decided to kill two birds with one stone and so typed in that the sports book was published by Four Freedom Publishing: Ireland – US – Canada. I drew up a logo, slapped it on the back cover, and so it was that Four Freedom was born, or at least achieved fetal status.

Journal Entry Three:
October 25/2015 9:30AM

Slept quite well actually and incredible dreams. A poem even, completely written:

I whispered all my secrets
Into lovers’ ears before
Can they even be called secrets
Or chocolate mints for paramours?
As each one left my pillows
Crumpled wrappers on the floor
She then became a secret
To tell the next one I adored.
I never meant to be this way
Unless of course I did
But that’s the real secret
The one I still keep hid.

Not bad. More importantly, I know what I want Four Freedom to be, what I want it to do. If I’m going to spend this much time staving off death with single sliced white bread sandwiches smeared with scrapings of jam, if I survive, I will make someone’s dreams live.

Yes, I do get a bit vain-glorious at times, but then again so did all my heroes in the writing trade and not just the authors themselves. You think Maxwell Perkins didn’t know he was damn good and knew what was best for his writers? Or Harold Ross when he assembled the Murderer’s Row of brilliance that was the original The New Yorker? Or Richard Seaver, searching obscure little book shops and small printers in Paris over weeks and months, as he described in his posthumous memoir The Tender Hour of Twilight looking for this little-known expat Irishman named Samuel Beckett because – he! – Dick Seaver! – was the one who could bring Beckett to the world’s attention. Do editors and publishers have big egos? Darling, they can’t get big enough.

The Lights Come On, The House is Launched

As you can tell, given that I’m not quite dead, the lights did eventually come back on and all the ideas and notes I made of them over those days and nights of dark and furious journaling have been put into action. There were four key decisions I had made:

1) If Four Free Freedom Publishing was truly to be worthwhile for me to focus the remaining half of my life on, it must make a positive impact on the world. Therefore, all its works in whatever category must touch on the advancement of Human Rights in brave, daring and entertaining forms. Our motto will be taken from a line written by Jacques Derrida:

What cannot be said above all must not be silenced but written.

2) We will publish in four categories: Non-Fiction, Fiction (both short and long), Poetry & Children’s, and Drama or Screenplay
3) There will be 16 titles per calendar year, so that each can achieve proper attention.
4) Marketing will be achieved by setting out an investment opportunity with a 22% annualized return, and also by offering free books to anyone willing to share our releases on social media. The world is Four Freedom Publishing‘s marketing team.

And now …

And now we have a website.
We have an email address: fourfreedompublishing (at) gmail.com .

Most importantly we have writers and editors and proofreaders. The books we have in the works include two one act plays in one volume, a poetry collection by an exciting new Canadian writer, two children’s books by an author from Northern Ireland, and just in its genesis a book about healing the soul from the traumas of everyday life as that too is a Human Rights issue.

As well, there is one series that I suppose is not actually Human Rights based. We are releasing a series of books with the prefix The Friendly World of … Those are gently humorous, yet content-filled books about various dog breeds. I suspect they will pay for the rest.

As For You?

Come and join us. You’ll find all the details on the Four Freedom Publishing website vis a vis submissions, or marketing, or even investing in us. This is all a glorious adventure and one I will do my damndest to push forward in a quest to make this world just a little bit better than how I found it. So I shall end this with the closing lines of a poem I actually do remember, Tennyson’s Ulysses. I say to you:

Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Be seeing you.

Thank you, Hubert, and I wish you the best of luck with your new publishing venture!

On reviews and reviewing

My novel, Island in the Clouds, recently received a second 2-star review on a book review site. I’m okay with the rating, because I know not everyone will enjoy my writing so this was a little jolt of reality to counter all those 4-and-5-stars I had been receiving since I first published the book in February of 2012.

WARNING – SPOILER: This story has a happy ending …

What caused me to take exception with the reviewer was that she had listed my novel in the “Thriller” category – which it is not – then complained that it had not been “thriller” enough. Worse though was that she recounted much of the plot line, right down to the ending, taking away any potential suspense readers may have discovered for themselves, had they a mind to read my book, in spite of the low rating and this reviewer’s comments. She did not include a “May Contain Spoilers” warning.

I know I can’t, or shouldn’t, say anything to the reviewer, nor do I think I should complain to the site where this was posted. I have to hope this particular review remains buried within the 31 other very-positive text reviews my book has received, as well as the many blog visits, reviews and interviews I’ve enjoyed over these past three-and-a-half-years promoting this book. (And I just know you’re all going to rush over to that site now to read the review for yourselves! Go ahead. I don’t mind, because I’d like you to give me more feedback on this subject below, in the comments section, after you finish reading the rest of this blog post.)

What bothered me most about this particular reviewer, though, was that she really does not know how to write a review. While some of the points she made about my book did strike me as logical (and I do take any criticism under consideration as I write further books in this series), she was kind of all over the map, so I’m not sure how she came up with 2 stars instead of 3 or even 1; she did seem to generally like reading the book, and there were apparently a few redeeming features. Anyway, about the “Thriller” categorization confusion … I’ve now discussed with my editor, Rachel Small, the idea to list the next novel as “Literary Fiction with a dash of Mystery” and hope that disspells any confusion as to my intentions in writing this series. (The next novel definitely is more LitFic, while Island was more Mystery. Neither is a “Thriller”, however.)

So I thought this was as good a time as any to write a blog post about Reviews and Reviewing – how to write a review (how to read a book to write a comprehensive review), how to read a review (as an author) to always get the most from it that will help improve your writing, whether we need reviews in the first place, and what reviews mean to potential readers. About a year ago, I had compiled a list of interesting links to do with these topics, so I present these to you now. Also, I have been discussing this topic with roughseasinthemed, a professional editor, journalist, and reviewer of books. She will have more to say on her own blog, but I’ve listed links to two blog posts she wrote previously that I remembered when the problem of this particular review came to my attention.

And now, here’s how you may become involved in the discussion … Please read through the links I’ve posted below then add to the conversation – especially if you are yourself a book reviewer (either professional [i.e. you are paid to review] or as a blogger). What advice would you give to anyone wishing to review our books? Has an author ever contacted you about a review you’ve posted asking that you edit the content? And, Authors, have you ever had to complain about a review for its content? For those of you who have read this particular review of Island in the Clouds, do you think I’m being too sensitive or do you think the reviewer revealed too much of the plot?

(NB. I’m not talking about malicious reviews or trolls or bullies here. Those reviewers deserve their own particular corner of Hell! I don’t believe my reviewer was being at all malicious – she just did not know how to write a book review. So please focus on this type of review and reviewer in your comments. Thanks!)

roughseasinthemed on Reviewing
I’m reviewing …
Views and reviews

Do We Really Need Book Reviews?
What’s a Book Review Really Worth? from BookMarketingBuzzBlog
When reviews really matter … from Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo
Do Read-and-Review Programs Really Work? from Indies Unlimited

On how to write a book review
How to Write a Book Review from Susan Finlay Writes

Get in on the planning stages and learn how you may help an author before their book is published
Pay it Forward – Beta Reading from Dylan Hearn’s Suffolk Scribblings

Authors, how you may want to deal with your readers … or perhaps not
What If Authors Behaved In Real Life Like They Behaved Online? from Tara Sparling Writes

Learn something about the publishing business so you know why your book is not receiving reviews, or being badly reviewed …
Publishing Facts You Probably Don’t Know from BookMarketingBuzzBlog

And specifically for Self-Published Authors …
From Tara Sparling Writes:
What Makes Me Buy A Self-Published Book?
What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?
What Puts Readers Off Self-Published Books?

For those of you who base your reading selections on what sells best …
The 100 Bestselling Used Books Since 2000 from AbeBooks.com (Presumably, these books were well-reviewed when they were released.)

The Writer’s Pro Shop Series, Why You Need It – A Guest Post by Hubert O’Hearn

Hubert O’Hearn has previously been featured on Reading Recommendations. He is a Canadian-born playwright and journalist who now lives in Ireland. When he announced his new The Writer’s Pro Shop Series recently I asked if he’d like to write a guest blog post to help promote this service that’s intended for writers at all levels in their careers. So, here’s Hubert!

The Writer’s Pro Shop Series. Why You Need It.

Hubert profile The Writer’s Pro Shop is a series of weekly writing exercises I am offering for free on the internet. Not only are these important skill development exercises on my own website (bythebookreviews.blogspot.com), I’m also allowing anyone with a personal website or blog to freely use this content just so long as it is properly attributed back to me. Everybody wins!

Why Did I Develop These Exercises?

Through my work as an independent book editor I have discovered that my writer-clients get stuck in patterns. They – and probably you – see their writing projects in only one perspective and so, when a need arises for a change to a scene or even a book’s overall structure arises, they literally do not know how to shift their minds to write anew.

Because of the above, I started using a modified technique derived from my work as a theatre director and acting coach. Actors too get stuck in their heads, to use the conventional phrase. They are reluctant to try something different when playing a part because what they have been doing feels safe. Familiar is safe, change is scary. Therefore I would challenge them with games, improvised situations, role switching, you name it, just to get them to see their character and scene differently and so jump-start the discovery process.

For writers, I would suggest similar exercises, short assignments related to the manuscript yet not necessarily a re-writing of a given scene or chapter. If there was a scene in a novel that involved two main characters having a conversation in a restaurant, how did the waiter observe that? Re-do a paragraph in the present active voice. If the dialogue was dull, write a four-way conversation with no ‘John said’ indicators yet have the four voices be individually identifiable.

Because these were exercises and not taking a sledgehammer to the walls of the novel (these techniques work perfectly well with non-fiction, drama and poetry too) my writers did not feel threatened; instead they were freshened. So that is where the idea for both The Writer’s Pro Shop and my Six Months to Better Writing subscription course began. Yet I wanted to take it a step further. I started to think of writing in terms of Sports Science.

What Does Sports Science Have to Do With This?

Let’s assume you have a favourite sport. Your favourite team or individual performer does not train by only playing practice games. That might be fun, yet playing the same way does not result in improved performance, or at least not efficiently. As the great golf coach David Ledbetter says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

I took a look at two games – golf and poker – for comparisons to writing. If you’re a golfer and you go to a driving range, are you like most people and just stand on the tee and hammer away at your dwindling bucket seeing how far you can hit the ball with each club? Do you ever try a new swing thought, stance, cut or draw, rhythm, or anything at all different from what you’ve always done before? Have you ever worked one-on-one with a pro? You can only see yourself from within yourself, whereas the pro sees all of you. Bear that in mind as we proceed.

Poker is another great metaphor for writing. It costs $10,000 to enter the Main Event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Anyone with ten grand can enter, and literally thousands of ‘anyones’ enter every year, which is why the prize money for the winner has risen to the multi-million dollar range. $10,000 is a pretty good number for a writer to consider. When you factor in the time you take researching and writing a book, plus formatting and marketing it, if you are going the independent route, you’re spending at least $10,000. Now, is that money going towards making you money, or is it adding to the prize purse of a marketer or Amazon/Kindle?

How is this relating to writing?

Writers are exactly like the golfer who just practices the same thing over and over, or the poker player who enters the World Series convinced he can be the next amateur to win the whole thing having done nothing to prepare other than being the best among a small group of friends. Both are making their ways, their habits of playing, permanent.

That, my curious friend, is exactly what with absolutely no exaggeration 99% of all writers do, which is why only about 1% of all writers make a living at it. They don’t work to improve their game.

Look at the practice range at the next major golf tournament on TV. What do you see the players doing? They are working with their coach, their caddy, even other players, getting swing tips and advice. At the WSOP, even someone who has won multiple winner’s diamond bracelets, like Phil Hellmuth, spends weeks before the event practicing specific situations that may come up during the actual tournament. Pro golfers and professional poker players alike are always looking for that little insight that will make them one-tenth of one percent better, because that 0.1% improvement is the difference between cashing a decent cheque or eating hot dogs for dinner.

What Most Writers Do is What You Shouldn’t Do

Most writers – and this definitely includes many of the greats – use the same inefficient technique for improvement. They write an article or a book, it doesn’t sell, so they write another. They may read a book about writing, or some interviews, maybe listen to an editor like me, then go and write another article or book (or play, poem etc.). Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat …

What makes no sense to me is why anyone would go through a process that can take years or decades before it makes a positive change in a writer’s skills. Go spend that $10,000 on scratch tickets, because you’re playing the same odds and you’ll save yourself a lot of time.

The Writer’s Pro Shop Exercises: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

This is why I have built this series of exercises. I know that you need to work on specific parts of your game. You need to make your strengths – let’s say you’re brilliant at dialogue – powerful strengths, plus we’ll use what you’re already strong at to improve the areas of writing you’re weak at.

Now, there is a flaw to all this! I would be dishonest if I said The Writer’s Pro Shop is all you need to succeed. The flaw is that you’re like the golfer who works out and practices with a mirror or video camera, guided by a coaching manual or DVD. You really aren’t getting direct feedback and commentary from a pro. You really do need to work one-on-one with someone you feel comfortable with and who knows what they’re talking about. But I’ll save my strong suggestion that you sign up for the Six Months to Better Writing course until the very end of this article. So let’s just ‘q.v.’ that one for now.

What I have done in the Writer’s Pro Shop is develop weekly writing assignments that you can easily adapt to a present project, or use generally to improve your skills. It is really based on not anything so technical as improving your grammar or expanding your word choices. Using our golf metaphor once more, those factors are club selection; we need to work on your swing and visualization.

Visualization is everything in the Writer’s Pro Shop Series. We write what we observe, after what we observe runs through the colours of our imagination. So, let’s observe differently. It will be easier for both of us if I show you what I mean. Here is the first exercise I give every client, from absolute newbies to seasoned professionals:

On the internet, find a photo of a painting that interests you and draws your attention. The only restriction is that it must contain at least one person in it. Download the photo, then write 500 words of any story you feel emerging from it. Do not concern yourself with a beginning or end. Just write what you feel. This is not for publication, so allow your instincts room to play.

Do you get it? To write more artistically, think like an artist. To short-cut the process, that exercise makes you look at a piece of reality that a painter has already seen as art. Then we move on through areas like:
• Character development
• Dialogue
• Finding the crucial detail
• What voice to use
• Making a plot logical, yet still enthralling

And (using my TV pitchman’s voice) many more!

Working One-on-One

Speaking of TV pitchmen, you do need to work one-on-one with a coach like me. I’m not a big believer in writing workshops. I don’t take them, I don’t lead them, frankly I avoid them. I find that their time is too compressed and they tend to break down into something akin to a herd of rutting stags clashing horns. They may be great vacations and you may have a couple of great takeaways in terms of tips or friendships, but as a career developer ….. meh.

Six Months to Better Writing, my course, uses the same exercises as The Writer’s Pro Shop, except I adapt them to suit your specific needs. Also, you get direct commentary every week from me on your assignment, along with the next week’s assignment that frequently builds off the work you have already turned in. Sixty bucks a month, quit any time, or stay longer than six months. Plus I limit the number of student/clients I work with to 24. Any more, I’m a factory and the only good writing that came out of a factory was Cannery Row.

Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions?

If you want to get in touch with me about either the Pro Shop or my course you can email me here or by using the contact info below. Regardless, thank you for reading this. That’s all we writers ever ask for: Someone to read our stuff.

Be seeing you.

Hubert O’Hearn is the author of two books, an independent editor, and a professional book and music reviewer. He also is the designer of the Six Months to Better Writing Course, working one-on-one with writers drawn from the entire range of experience. For comments or queries he can be reached at ohearnofireland@gmail.com)