Access Copyright’s Payback Program is open

This year’s Payback Program is now open for registration. If you are a Canadian writer, and have print publication credits to which you hold the rights published from 1993-2012, you can collect royalties from this program.

Don’t know anything about this program? Read the FAQ [PDF].

Here’s where you get into the Payback program.

To be part of the program, you need to register with Access Copyright — and if you didn’t register with them as of the end of last year, you’re not eligible for this year. But that means you should register with Access Copyright today, and be ready for next year.

The reason to get into this program is because you actually get a real, live cheque in the mail every fall. Even with one book in print, you are eligible for a portion of the royalties paid out to writers. It’s pretty nice to get a cheque for a couple hundred dollars every year — it’s not a lot of money, but it feels good.

If you qualify, get registered. If you’re not sure whether you qualify, find out.

Accepting Rejection

I’ve had some ups and downs recently with my work — some positive signs about a couple of manuscripts that I worked on, and some rejection as well. Even very small victories do mean a lot to me, as a writer, but the rejections do take a little bit out of me.

Of course, I’m still hunting for the big success. I know I’m getting closer, but I think of all of the little steps forward as little bites, while I’m still trying to land a fish. It’s frustrating, of course, but you can’t get the fish without getting some bites first.

I did get one excellent rejection recently. The editor was positive about the work, but had a list — a long list — of edits she’d want to see; she said she’d look at it again if I took care of those things. They were often very fundamental weaknesses in the story, or issues that were woven throughout the book, and to attack those issues would take some time and effort. I’m going to do it, though. It’s a good book and everything she listed would make it a better book.

But even more encouraging is the fact that I wouldn’t have this list with any of my more recent books, or at least I wouldn’t have a list this long. Part of the problem was that I embarked upon that book without any real idea of what I was going to do; I actually took a four-month hiatus from it — paralysis, really — before I could figure out what to do with the last third of the book.

More recently, I’ve learned to outline my work, so that I don’t have these important characters who are AWOL through most of the book, and I have motivations clearer in my head before I start writing them. I know I also write more quickly with an outline. The trick has been getting the outline at the right level of detail, but I’ve figured out the sweet spot for my writing.

In any case, it’s a good rejection, and the publisher is willing to look at something else I’ve got. I can get used to this kind of rejection… but not too used to it!

Don’t worry about your network, worry about your friends

Accordion Guy’s advice (and the article he’s referring to) for people who mess around in the high-tech sphere is perfectly applicable to writers, too:

If you have successful friends, you will be successful. It’s pretty much that simple. If you hang out with a bunch of losers, you too will adopt their loser ways and not achieve anything. Regardless of whether or not you go out and network, please make sure that your friends are ambitious and hard working people who you admire.

The writers I hang out with, work with, swap editing with, and read all have one thing in common: they write. Usually they write a lot. And when they write, they’re serious about getting their writing out there, one way or another.

I used to describe them as people who were working to get published (and I appointed myself as judge of whether they were realistic in that, for better or worse). Now I look a little more widely, realizing that there are many paths, and many measures of success; now I look for writers who have defined useful goals and work to achieve them. (Again, whether the goals are useful is something I judge for myself.)

But people who talk about wanting to write? They aren’t people I talk to about writing. People who have been working on the same novel for ten years? People who have this one idea they’d like to turn into a novel? People who do nothing but “free-writing”? People who don’t want feedback on their work?

Those are good people, fine people. I have no problem with those people. But they aren’t people I talk to about writing. The people whose opinions I value, whose stories I hang on, whose work I seek out and ask to read and offer to help with and whose signed copies I display on my shelf with pride: those are writers.

And there’s another side to this: why would those people want to hang out with me? They are perfectly capable of judging my goals, and whether I’m working towards them realistically. And there’s no doubt that plenty of them have considered me and found me wanting, by their standards. And that’s fine, too.

In short, to be a peer of other people whose work you respect, work like hell and make sure that what you produce is at least approaching the same sort of quality. If you want to hang out with great people, start by being one of those people.

The Oenophile’s Quandary

Cartoonist David Malki introduced us to the Oenophile’s Quandary:

Presented with something that, over time, increases in quality (like wine) or value (like money in a savings account), when’s the right time to use it? If you’re saving for a rainy day, how hard does it have to rain before that’s it? And as the item gains worth, wouldn’t it have to rain harder and harder before it makes sense to pop that cork?

And isn’t it good to exercise a healthy discipline of delayed gratification? If in doubt, save it?

Sound familiar? I think of this every time I finish something I want to send out for publication.

The work itself doesn’t improve over time, but it can potentially improve through revision. Theoretically, you could revise something infinitely, increasing its quality more and more with each pass.

Then again, you don’t want to have to wait forever to publish something, do you? In today’s world of zero-cost (or at least zero-upfront-cost) publication, you could e-publish immediately upon completion and start earning income right away. But a single pass through the piece to proofread it would be minimal time invested, and potentially keep from turning readers off with an errant first-page typo.

Or is it just an excuse to put off the unpleasant work of actually sitting down and editing one’s work?

This weekend I submitted something to a publisher during one of their rare open submission periods. I had to submit the first five chapters, and I spent a long time on them. Someone should tell philosophers about deadlines.

Word tip: smart find and replace

One of the many superpowers Word has that writers will often need to use is the find and replace tool. You probably have used it yourself–for example, when you’re changing a character’s name and want to make sure you get every instance in the manuscript changed.

Let’s look at that example to start. The character you named Wesley is going to be called Lance now. So you hit ctrl-h:

04-03-2013 10-12-04 PM

and click Replace All. Simple.

Oh, but wait. You called him Wes most of the time, didn’t you? Better replace those too.

And then you proofread, and find this:

04-03-2013 10-12-04 PM


Whoops. Time to unleash the power of search and replace.

Start by clicking the “More” button at the bottom left corner of the dialog box, and behold:


Many more juicy options! In this case we’re going to select two of them:

  • Match case will make sure that only instances of Wes will be replaced. That means westerly and awesome won’t be affected.
  • Find whole words only will ensure that only Wes will be replaced. West Egg won’t become Lancet Egg.

This will take care of almost all of the instances of Wes in your manuscript. Just to make sure, though, we’ll search for Wes without the Find whole words only option, and see…

searchfail 2


So you’re still going to have to go through the manuscript with the search tool and scrutinize every Wes that appears. It might even be worth looking for wes, just in case. But by using the search and replace features that Word provides, your task is much easier.

Next up: Searching for and replacing special characters.


On Amazon and bestsellers

Recently, a somewhat successful writer demanded to know where all his money is:

This past summer, my novel, “Broken Piano for President,” shot to the top of the best-seller lists for a week. After Jack Daniel’s sent me a ridiculously polite cease and desist letter, the story went viral and was featured in places like Forbes, Time magazine and NPR’s Weekend Edition… My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.”…

From what I can tell so far, I made about $12,000 from “Broken Piano” sales. That comes directly to me without all those pesky taxes taken out yet (the IRS is helpful like that)…

The book sold plus or minus 4,000 copies.

Many writers, publishing for the first time, assume that the rewards will be far greater than they actually are. Because the book exists, their thinking tends to go, people will buy it; the inevitability of huge cash rewards must therefore follow.

And most learn in short order that the reality is different. If they’re lucky, they’ll get a handful of sales a month on Amazon. Four thousand sales in a week is a great total. But it’s still penny-ante stuff. How much money did the author expect to make from those sales? Why is he mystified that he’s not rich?

He sold more copies than the year-old 50 Shades blockbuster franchise. That series has sold 65 million copies, through every store in every strip mall and airport in the industrialized world. Outselling it for a week on one website? A blip in the statistics. Believe me, the 50 Shades stakeholders didn’t notice it.

No, the real lessons here seem to have passed the author by:

  • It only takes 4,000 sales to be a best-seller on Amazon. That’s fewer sales than it takes to be a best-seller in all of Canada. It’s not a lot of sales.
  • The traditional publishing and distributing model is still master of the publishing world. Will it change? Maybe — probably — but it hasn’t yet. More books in more stores equals bigger sales.

ABNA Quarterfinalist

Brendan's Way - ABNA 2013 EntryMy SF novel Brendan’s Way has been selected as a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Woo! It is one of 100 SF/fantasy/horror novels selected as a quarterfinalist, which is a list whittled down from 500 second round selections.

The quarterfinalist entries were selected on the basis of a 3000-5000 word excerpt from the novel. If you’re interested for any reason, you can download mine to your Kindle-enabled device here. And you can also add your reviews to the excerpt as though it were a real, live, Amazonian book. Please do so, especially if you have five stars hanging around looking for somewhere to go.

I’d love to share the enthusiastic and, I admit, embarrassingly orgiastic comments that the reviewing judges provided for my excerpts; unfortunately, they are not yet available, because of some kind of error on Amazon’s site. But when they appear, and provided that they are as unequivocally positive as I am assuming, I will post them here.

In the interest of pedantry (and no one is more interested in pedantry than am I), I note that quarterfinalist should be hyphenated. I don’t like this unhyphenated compound word, no, not one jot. It’s spelled correctly in the contest rules but they’ve removed the hyphens on the announcement web page. Odd. As long as I make it to the semifinals or semi-finals, though, I will withhold my complaints to the management.

Giving unto Caesar

If you’re a non-US writer, and you’re selling books with an American e-publisher, you’ll know the big annoyance we all face: American e-publishers (like, oh, say, Kindle and Smashwords–the biggest ones) withhold 30% of non-US citizens’ royalties for tax purposes.

To get that money back–or more importantly, to avoid their hanging onto it in the first place–seems like a difficult problem. The labyrinthine series of forms to submit to nearly everyone involved, faxes to send, flaming hoops to jump through, and bricks to hurl through government offices’ windows is just a little bit difficult to sort out. And if you’re like me (lazy, jaded, hung over) you tell yourself that it’s not worth the onion, and sigh and play yet another game of Bejewelled Blitz.

It doesn’t have to be this way, as it turns out. Don’t worry–you can still play Bejewelled Blitz (try to stop me!) and you can still be lazy, jaded, and hung over (ditto!)–but you can fairly easily get those royalties in your pocket instead of the IRS’s.

Here’s how.

A lovely Irish writer, Catherine Ryan Howard, posted some clear and understandable, yet precise and detailed instructions devised by another lovely Irish author, David Gaughran, about how to finish the process quickly and painlessly.

I don’t use the word “hero” very often–for which I am often myself considered heroic–but these are real heroes living in our midst. They ought to be showered with the most fragrant rose-petals and lily-stems and rhubarb-leaves and pumpkin-husks that the gardens of the world have to offer.

Thanks to you both, and good luck to all those other authors who will now have approximately 30% added to their e-publishing income. I don’t know about anyone else, but that better than doubles my monthly budget for rye whiskey.

Good news everyone

My science fiction book Brendan’s Way — the one I recently had an agent asking for pages from — made it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

Okay, so that puts it in the top 500 science fiction books submitted. And the first round is based solely on the pitch for the novel; I don’t think they even look at anything else at this point. It’s not as though I’ve really won anything yet.

But still, it’s good news. We gotta take what we can get it this biz. So hooray, and go Brendan!

Swimming with the Query Shark

I’ve been reading the archives–the incredibly extensive archives–of the Query Shark, a literary agent who selflessly tears apart people’s query letters and posts them on her blog. It’s a lot nicer and more useful than I’m making it sound, I think.

So I came across this one, where she says:

One of the very first things to remember about any query is you’ve got to make sure your protagonist sounds like someone I’ll want to spend some time with. Either cause I like them, am rooting for them, am fascinated by them, or can’t wait to see if they get eaten by wolves.  What they can’t be is a two dimensional cartoon.

This did two things for me. First, it pointed out what I’m supposed to be doing with my queries in a way that I’ve never really figured out before. Make the reader want to spend time with the character. Excellent.

And second, it immediately pointed out to me what I could do to improve my own query.

Not that it’s a bad query, I’ll add: I got an e-mail from an agent, asking for pages, just last Friday. So it’s not a lost cause or anything.

But it could have been better, and now it is. All I have to do is read through the other two hundred queries posted by the Query Shark, and then I can send in my own.