Honoured to have been asked, I readily agreed, and then promptly went to the dictionary to figure out what a “colloquium” is, and whether Paula had spelled it correctly. I mean, what the heck kind of word has “uiu” in the middle of it? I should not have doubted her. She spelled it correctly. I cannot spell it correctly without saying the letters “uiu” out loud as I’m writing it.
And what is it? “An academic conference or seminar.” I guess you can have those sorts of things on Twitter, especially now that Elon Musk is running the joint. (With him there apparently you can have, do or say anything you like, world order and democracy be damned.)
It may sound like I’m being a bit flip about the whole thing. (That’s cause I am. ) But the flippedness ends now. (Not really, but a little bit.) Cuz I am in fact pleased to have been asked to participate and have every intention of taking it seriously, or as seriously as I’m able, which is every bit as serious as is required without being one iota more serious than that.
And what exactly are Paula and Celu asking of me? Initially, a series of ten tweets accompanied by a brief blog post (you’re reading that part right now) about the whole (hang on while I recite the letters out loud) “colloquium” (it didn’t work; I had to scroll back up in this post to get the order of the letters right).
But wait! I haven’t even really explained what it’s about.
According to Paula (who should know as she’s the one putting this whole thing together) it’s about “self-publishing your own fiction, and things you have learned.” And for me specifically: “What was it like preparing your father’s book and publishing it? What kind of reaction and feedback are you getting? What skills that you learned working for the CBC are you bringing to your self-publishing?”
So that is what I will be tweeting about tomorrow, Saturday April 30th around noon EST with Paula and Celu.
Paula adds: “I’m sure there’s lots you have in mind to say.”
Perhaps… but not right now. It’s Friday afternoon! And I have to walk the dog, after which I’m going out for wings and a movie with the guys. As you can imagine, there hasn’t been a whole lot of that sort of thing the last couple of years. Now that the damnpenic (sic) is over (hey, I can pretend just as well as the rest of our dumb elected officials) I can do that sort of thing again.
Our Twitter Colloquium on Self-publishing, hashtag #SelfPubCol. I hope you’ll join us!
For as long as I can remember my father has been writing stories, mainly about growing up on a farm in Johnville New Brunswick. I would say that my sister Susan Rodgers and I got the writing bug from him except that my mother told me recently she’s always wanted to be a writer too. I think the bug bit the whole darned family.
I’ve long wanted to collect my father’s stories up in single package. For years I’ve had versions on my laptops and computers and hard copies laying about. But I was never sure I had them all.
I managed to get home to Prince Edward Island this past summer. While there, Dad and I talked about his stories. He’s eighty-seven years old now. He showed me stories of his I’d never seen before. Before I knew it, I was gathering all the stories up, making sure I had them all. Some were already in electronic form. Others were on paper, having been typewritten decades earlier. (Dad told me that purchasing a typewriter was the original impetus for starting to write.) Others were parts of amateur collections that had been put together over the years by writers groups my father had been part of. One story was actually a letter written to Dad by his brother Bill back in the fifties, a letter possessing a singular charm, and that eventually became a part of this collection.
After I thought I’d collected every word Dad had ever written, or at least that he could remember writing, one of my cousins, Ann Cassidy McCambley, sent me three stories he’d forgotten he’d written, that his sister Marion had absconded with after a visit to Dad’s house years ago. (One of those stories, “Fishing,” is a part of this collection. )
I started editing. I already knew the stories possessed their own allure, imparted in part by a striking authenticity. The voice, the vocabulary, the terminology, is straight out of Dad’s youth growing up in Northern New Brunswick in the forties and fifties. It’s a whole other world, one Dad brings vividly to life. Editing the tales consisted mainly of cleaning up the grammar and punctuation. As much as possible I hewed to Dad’s original prose, changing only what was necessary. It felt like polishing gemstones; I was not chipping away rock and detritus only to unearth coal. These were emeralds, rubies, diamonds. And I don’t believe I’m saying that just because the man is my father. My father knows how to tell uniquely compelling tales.
Or, truth be told, re-tell some of them. Many of the tales in this collection were told to him by his father, for whom I am named: the original Joseph Thomas Mahoney, or Joe… the exact same name as me. That Joe Mahoney was born in 1900 and died tragically young in 1954, younger than I am now. He was a teamster and a farmer, worked his own farm all his life with his burgeoning family. And while doing so told a lot of stories, many of which my father remembered, and some of which are in this collection, two of which are entertainingly told in part in that man’s own voice. Here’s a photo of the man in his prime, with my grandmother, Helen Kilfoil, and an aunt and an uncle:
The Deer Yard and Other Stories is being published by my own imprint, Donovan Street Press, in association with my sister Susan Rodger‘s company Bluemountain Entertainment, subsidized in part by a grant by the government of Prince Edward Island. One of my daughters, Erin, illustrated the deer on the cover. Valerie Bellamy, a graphic and book designer from Halifax, designed the superb cover. All three of my sisters, Susan, Shawna and Kathy helped proofread the collection (there are zero typos, or had better not be!) It’s available in ebook now; a softcover version (featuring large print) will be available shortly.
Here’s the back jacket blurb:
Tom Mahoney grew up on a small family farm in Johnville, New Brunswick. Despite a lack of modern conveniences such as running water and electricity, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Tom’s was a world of natural beauty; of soft and lonely quiet. Life was never dull. His active imagination was nourished by ghosts and demons, intrepid priests, drunken neighbours, redneck bullies, frightened deer, angry bears, wannabe circus dogs, and plenty of shenanigans. From these seeds great stories grew. Drawing on his own experiences and those of his family — his father was also a gifted storyteller — Tom’s humorous and touching tales, spanning decades, brim with colour and authenticity.
On Saturday May 4th, 2019, we’re holding a book fair in Whitby, Ontario called BookMarkIt!
What’s a book fair? It’s where authors come
to sell their books. It’s where people come to sell products related to books.
It’s where yet others come to peruse these wares, meet a favourite author or
two, and discover new favourite authors.
Why hold a book fair?
In my case, it’s because I published a book
recently. And since becoming an author I’ve discovered something:
Books are hard to sell.
This made me want to do something to make
it a bit easier. Not just for myself, but for other writers too.
You might be thinking, how are books hard
to sell? Can’t I just walk into a bookstore and buy them? What about online? Can’t
I just buy them there?
Sure, you can do both those things.
But you’re not necessarily going to find the best books by doing that. Just because a book is online doesn’t mean it’s going to be visible there. Take for example fellow BookMarkIt! organizer and author Pat Flewwelling’s first Helix book, Blight of Exiles. Despite thirteen excellent reviews on Amazon.com and a 4.7 Star rating, it’s still sitting at #10,911,700.
And you might be surprised to learn that a
lot of good books aren’t even in bookstores. Most major book retailers don’t
carry books by independent and self-published authors. There are a lot of
reasons for this, starting with lots of high octane competition and limited
As you can imagine, this is a bit of a challenge
for those who don’t get shelf space.
Independent publishers are committed to
publishing voices you’re not going to find elsewhere. Here in Canada, that
often means Canadian voices. These are publishers willing to take chances, not
wholly driven by the bottom line. They are like craft brewers, except instead
of producing beer, they produce quality books, every bit as unique, distinctive
and flavourful as the suds produced by your favourite craft brewer.
Also, in the last decade or so there’s been
an explosion of self-publishing. Costs have gone down and quality has gone up.
Unfortunately, like the books of many independent publishers, these books don’t
usually make their way into bookstores.
Shelf space in bookstores isn’t the only
challenge for authors and publishers. It costs money to sell books. I mean
beyond the cost of making the books in the first place. There’s the cost of
marketing and advertising those books, which is frequently a challenge for
small publishers and independent authors. Not to mention that everybody involved
in the production and selling of a book has to get their cut. Here’s an example
of how it can work:
One day I took my book to a bricks and mortar Indigo bookstore to sell it. Before I could do this I had to purchase several copies of my book from my publisher to have copies to sell. This was a fair investment to begin with. Indigo kindly gave me a table and a chair and a prominent spot on their floor. I met a lot of nice people and sold nine books that day.
Unfortunately, Chapter’s non-negotiable
policy is to take 45% of the sale price of each book sold. This forced me to
charge a rather high price for each copy of my book to break even. At the end
of the day, after Chapters took their share, I made a little under two dollars
profit for that day’s work (never mind all the work that went into creating the
book in the first place). I don’t see the point of ever trying to sell my book
at Chapters again.
Fortunately there are other avenues to sell
books. Farmer’s Markets and Dealer’s Rooms at conventions, for example. Still,
although these places don’t typically take a share of your profits, you are
required to rent a table. The cost of renting a table varies, anywhere from $10
a table (at a Farmer’s Market in Summerside, P.E.I.) to over $150 a table (at a
science fiction convention in Toronto). Sometimes you can share a table with
another writer, which helps a lot. But if you’re shelling out for a table, you
need to sell a certain number of copies of your book in order to break even.
Whether a convention, a Farmer’s Market, or
another type of event at which you rent a table to sell your books, you don’t
always break even. Why not? Sometimes the sad truth is that no one wants your
particular book. Maybe it just isn’t the right crowd. For example, sometimes
these events are populated predominantly by writers as opposed to readers. So
you wind up trying to sell your books to other writers who are also trying to sell
you their books. This is not entirely an obstacle as writers are a uniquely
supportive lot who frequently buy one another’s books. I have a lot of friends’
books on my shelves.
Of course, these examples are not the only
means by which writers can sell their books. Many writers do book tours and
interviews. Others successfully do outreach to libraries and schools which
raises their profiles while giving back to their communities.
But the more opportunities writers have to
sell their books, and the more opportunities readers have to find those
writers, the better it is for everyone. Which is why my friends and I decided
to create BookMarkIt!
Our goal is to create an attractive
environment to expose as many writers and readers to one another as possible.
And we want to do so at as little cost to writers and readers as possible. This
is why admission to BookMarkIt! is free. BookMarkIt! itself is a non-profit
organization. And writers can rent tables as inexpensively as we can manage,
and share those tables if they choose.
We’ve decided to hold BookMarkIt! at the Whitby Curling Club, located on Brock Street, the main street in Whitby, just north of Whitby’s downtown. There is a lot of traffic on this road, and the Club has a huge sign outside to draw people in. We’re placing Food Trucks in the parking lot to attract further traffic and create a bit of a stir. It will be a family friendly event. The Whitby Curling Club itself is an attractive venue, well laid out inside with plenty of room for vendors and visitors and another whole room we’ll be using for interviews and readings, which we’ll post on social media later to help writers sell their work after the event.