Some of you many have observed that I’ve removed most if not all posts relating to CBC Radio, including my memoir in progress “Adventures in the Radio Trade” (previously called Something Technical).
Sorry ’bout that.
My apologies in particular to those who’ve written to me lately expressing appreciation for said posts, or who have posted links to the material in question on other blogs (including Wikipedia, for which I plan to restore some of the material).
Don’t worry, I didn’t delete everything. I’ve just moved the status of those posts to “private.”
I’ve done this because I intend to release Adventures in the Radio Trade as a book, and I can’t have the material posted publicly on a blog and in a book. Well, I could, I suppose, but nobody would publish the book. For example, if Amazon detected material from the book on a website, they would decline to include the book among their wares. (They threatened to do this with my short story collection Other Times and Places after detecting one of the stories online, which I had forgotten to remove.)
I’d also begun to notice excerpts from my online version of Adventures in the Radio Trade on other websites, which, although somewhat flattering, made me afraid I’d never get it entirely offline when the need arose.
I did like the online version, which included many links and photos which I’ll not be able to include in the book version. But alas. The online version could never be permanent, whereas the book version can.
I’ve submitted Adventures in the Radio Trade to a handful of agents and publishers, but I don’t really care if it’s traditionally published. I’m perfectly happy to publish it myself, under my own imprint Donovan Street Press. I’ve also discussed publishing it as a joint venture with my sister Susan Rodgers, under her production company, Blue Mountain Entertainment. We shall see.
In the meantime, the manuscript, which includes a fair amount of material I’ve never posted before, is being edited by one of my two favourite editors (and good friend), Arleane Ralph. And I’ve already secured most of the permissions I require from the CBC to publish the book, just a few more “t”s to cross there.
I’ve just returned from a highly restorative trip to Prince Edward Island where I saw several members of my family, many of whom I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. I would call PEI “the land Covid forgot” except I don’t want to jinx the place. But it was almost possible to forget about the pandemic there, where masks are not mandatory (we frequently wore them anyway). I loved it. I never want another summer to go by where I don’t visit PEI, which is where I grew up, and where much of my family still lives.
While there, I collected everything my dad, Tom Mahoney, ever wrote. One of my projects this fall will be to assemble it into a book, and publish it before Christmas, also under Donovan Street Press, in association with Blue Mountain Entertainment. His writing is almost entirely of growing up on top of a mountain near Johnville, New Brunswick in the thirties and forties. There are stories of ghosts, log drives, backwoods bullies, acrobatic dogs, and more. (One story was featured on CBC Radio’s The Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean).
Not only do I think it will be an entertaining collection, I think it’s of historical value, evoking a way of being largely lost to us now. Dad grew up with no running water and electricity. His father, my grandfather, wore his long johns all winter long to stay warm working mostly outdoors on their farm. There are crazy, memorable characters like Bob Tucker, a family friend and fellow mountain man who once crashed a locomotive, dynamited rocks in rivers to make life easier for himself, jumped off a train to avoid the first world war, got trapped in snow up to his neck, and whose first hot bath was in a hospital at the end of his life. I look forward to getting this collection out.
I’m three quarters of the way through a companion novel to A Time and a Place, called Captain’s Away, a straight up space opera set one thousand years in the future. It’s about the Doucette’s (descendants of Ridley Doucette) who are separated when their space station is blown out from beneath them at the onset of an intergalactic war. They have their own adventures while trying to find their way back to one another, each contributing to the war effort in their own way. It’s got spaceships and robots and evil emperors and princesses (or the like) and it’s a lot of fun to write.
Finally, while in PEI I had an idea for a mystery series that’s a bit of a departure for me, but that I also think could be a lot of fun to write. All I need is an extra twenty-four hours per day and maybe I can get all this stuff done (there’s still a day job, family, and de facto zoo to look after as well!)
Author Robert Charles Wilson recently started a virtual tour of his bookshelves. I thought this was a good idea, a bit of a distraction from everything going on, and thought I’d join in. The contents may be somewhat embarrassing (among other things… I mean really, who cares about my bookshelf? forgive me; I’m suffering from cabin fever and slowly going mad) but I’m just going to let it all hang out. So without further ado, we’ll begin with the top left hand corner of my primary bookshelf, along with a few words of explanation.
I live in a bungalow, and I don’t live there alone, so the books I hang onto are routinely and ruthlessly pruned. Every book and object I retain is there for a damned good reason. Many books date back to my childhood, so they’re either really, really good, or there for powerful sentimental reasons. (I will note at this point that the decorations adorning my bookshelf are courtesy of a certain Loved One with whom I do not argue, and I appreciate the beautification.)
On the far left are magazines and anthologies that have featured my short stories over the years. Past that, Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man. Really have to re-read that one again soon. Then James Gleick… love this guys work every since reading his biography on Richard Feynman. And I love time travel.
Which brings us to my James Blish Star Trek Collection. Started gathering these when I was eleven. Took another three of four years to get them all. I’m probably one of the few people who read most Star Trek episodes before ever seeing them. And I’ve loved James Blish ever since. (Surface Tension, anyone?) Note the original Trek novel Blish penned at the end there, Spock Must Die, the first adult Trek novel ever written (clocking in at 118 pages) until 1976. To me, Blish was canon. Somewhere in his Star Trek writing, possibly Spock Must Die (though I can’t find it just now) I distinctly remember Blish giving Kirk the middle name “Thaius” instead of “Tiberius.” Nobody had bothered to tell him what the “T” stood for so he just made something up. So to me that’s Kirk’s real middle name.
Next up we come to one of my favourite books of all time, The Postman, by David Brin. It’s one of only three books I’ve read in a single sitting in my entire life (the others are Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Replay by Ken Grimwood). I was so excited to see the movie version of The Postman that I drove from Summerside PEI to Charlottetown during a terrible snowstorm to see it, dragging my father and sister Susan Rodgers long as well. And then sank lower and lower in my seat as I realized what a botch they’d made of it. I had the opportunity to talk to David Brin about it a few years later. He told me that filmmakers got one thing right about the book: they captured the heart. Everything else they got wrong.
Hidden behind the figurine of the girl is The Radio Planet by Ralph Milne Farley, originally published as a serial in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1926. It’s a sentimental fave. I haven’t re-read it in a few decades, but I remember loving it as a kid. Below is a picture of the cover.
Beside that is Starrigger, by John DeChancie. I found it in a used bookstore in Whitby one day and enjoyed it. I think it’s a series, and this one isn’t even the first one. Always figured I’d find and read another in the series someday, but never have.
Of course, you don’t have to put any effort into selling your book if you don’t want to. You can just throw the book out there and hope that by some miracle it will get discovered because of its intrinsic value. There are writers who have had some success this way. But if you choose this path, I think you will be waiting a long time.
I feel an obligation to work hard at selling my novel A Time and a Place. For one thing, I spent a long time writing it. I’m happy with it. I think that it’s worth reading. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? Why, yes. Yes, it is. But I do think that there’s an ideal reader for this book and it’s up to me to find them.
My publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, invested in me and this book, financially and otherwise. Five Rivers artists and editors and book designers put their time and imagination into it. They deserve something in return for all that.
Thinking about what I owe my publisher and the book itself gives me the strength and will to overcome certain misgivings I have about selling my book.
What misgivings? Why should I feel bad about selling A Time and a Place?
Because doing so is somewhat at odds with my general philosophy of life. Apart from certain contexts such as work and family, I don’t expect anything from anybody. The world doesn’t owe me anything. If somebody gives me something—their time, a gift, a favour—it must be of their own free will. I don’t want anyone to do anything for me out of guilt or obligation. I will do the same for them. If I do something for you, it’s because I really want to (um, either that or because of some deep-seated unconscious psychological impulse influencing my actions that I am neither aware of nor can be held responsible for).
What this means is that nobody, not family, friend or stranger, is obligated to purchase A Time and a Place, or read it, or review it (or review it positively), or talk about it, or do anything at all to support it.
Nobody owes me or my book anything.
Because I feel this way, I feel a little funny about trying to convince people to buy it, because I don’t want to talk someone into buying it who might not have done so otherwise. Who might buy it out of charity or a sense of obligation towards me. I would prefer that people buy A Time and a Place because they’re actually interested in it, who might really enjoy and appreciate it.
Now, this is not to say that I don’t appreciate the support that I’ve received so far, whatever the motives may be. Support that has been legion, and that I do truly value.
In fact, I will never forget it.
All that being said, because I do feel an obligation toward the book and my publisher, and because I genuinely believe in A Time and a Place, I am doing my best to market and sell it.
The challenge now, I think, is to make A Time and a Place known to a wider audience. I fancy that amongst this wider audience there are people with whom it might truly resonate. A readership that might (dare I hope?) appreciate it on its own terms.
But how to reach this audience?
A Time and a Place is published by a respectable micro-publisher with limited resources. They are not in a position to mount an expensive advertising campaign. Nor can they afford a print run that will place physical copies of the book in brick and mortar stores across North America. And the print version is rather expensive. Finally, I don’t have the time or money to do a book tour.
On the other hand, A Time and a Place is available everywhere online as an e-book at a good price point. And it was very strong out of the gate. The book launch was a huge success, selling quite a few copies. In fact, it was Bakka-Phoenix Book’s (Canada’s top science fiction bookstore) best-selling Trade Paperback for the month of October 2017. A Time and a Place received a glowing review from Publisher’s Weekly (a prominent international publishing magazine), a review that was subsequently distributed to every major bookselling platform, including Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more. The novel received some respectable media attention (CBC Charlottetown), and it has received excellent independent reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, where it’s currently rated at 4.6 out of 5.
So what does all that mean?
It means that I have a good book and a good foundation upon which to build. It means that I don’t have a huge media conglomerate behind me. It means that my publisher and I must do what we can with what we have.
It means that selling and marketing A Time and a Place is a bit of an uphill battle.
But that’s okay. I’ve been experimenting. And learning.
Early on, I did a Farmer’s Market in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, shortly after being interviewed by CBC Charlottetown. The table, which I shared with my sister, Susan Rodgers (author of the Drifters series), and Sue Campbell (author of Two Bricks Short: My Journey With Cancer) cost me ten dollars. I sold eight copies that day, three a direct result of the CBC Radio interview.
Summerside Farmer’s Market with sister Sue and new friend Sue
I spent a day at a Chapters in Oshawa. Sold nine copies there. But Chapters takes a huge cut (45%). Factoring in what each edition costs me (purchased from my publisher), I was forced to charge an exorbitant amount for each copy to make even a miniscule profit, so I will never do that again, at least for A Time and a Place.
I was invited to two Book Clubs, but only one of them followed through. Several members of the Book Club that did follow through purchased copies of A Time and a Place and actually read it before I showed up to talk about it. This was a lot of fun. Great food, great questions, and great company. My only regret is that I talked too much. I was just so excited to have the opportunity to talk about A Time and a Place to people who actually seemed interested in it.
And I’ve done a few other book-related events, but never sold more than three copies at any of them.
The most success I’ve had selling the book has been to friends, family and colleagues. Cutting out all middle-men allows me to charge the least amount for the book. And in every case they’ve approached me, so I don’t feel like I’m twisting anybody’s arm. I have a couple of rules around this. If someone happens to mention in conversation that they’re interested in purchasing A Time and a Place, I always follow up. As I mentioned before, I owe the book and my publisher that. If they’re still interested, I sell a copy or two. But if I follow up and nothing comes of it, I never mention it again.
I believe that many of these types of sales have been a result of making the book visible. To promote my book launch, I posted posters about the book all over the Broadcast Centre where I work. As a result, everybody who knows me there knows I wrote a book. Also, up until recently, I made a video every weekend that I posted on various social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, and Linked In. Sometimes the videos were directly about the book, sometimes they weren’t. But they all put me out in front of people. A surprising amount of people I know have watched these videos (usually via Linked In or Facebook). The existence of these videos, I am certain, has prompted sales.
A word about the videos. Every now and then I break out in a cold sweat, certain that I’m completely embarrassing myself with the videos. My friends assure that I’m not, even though it’s obvious not everyone gets my sense of humour. But I strongly believe that if you’re considering producing similar videos, some thought and craft has to go into them. Don’t just hit record and talk. I started by doing that and quickly realized that I owed the people watching them more than that. When I resume making videos in a few weeks, I plan to ramp up the quality even more. It’s also more fun to make well-thought out and produced videos.
Speaking of social media accounts, I’ve paid a lot more attention to them since the launch of the book, especially Twitter. By using the app Crowdfire, I’ve grown my Twitter following from four hundred to over fourteen hundred since Christmas. Has this resulted in any sales? I know of at least one (thanks Jim!) And I’m pretty sure Jim has loaned A Time and a Place to a friend, who showed up on Goodreads planning to read it. Word of mouth is extremely important. In fact, perhaps the most important.
Goodreads is something else I’m paying a lot of attention to, curious to see how it can help. Recently, I mounted a campaign to make A Time and a Place the number one book about teleportation on Goodreads. It wasn’t very difficult, as not a whole lot of people had voted for that particular list. But I noticed a slight uptick of sales following this campaign. I’m also trying an ad campaign on Goodreads, but a week into that has resulted in zero sales—in fact, zero clicks on the advertisements, so clearly some tweaking is required there. I plan to experiment with Facebook next.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about selling one book at a time. After a while, the numbers add up. I’ve been very lucky with the support I’ve received from friends, family and colleagues, but for the book to truly succeed it has to break out of that group into the wider world. A Time and a Place has yet to do that to any meaningful extent. But I’m not giving up on it. Everything I read about marketing and selling books tells me that the single best thing I can do to help sell my books is to write more of them. So that’s the next big step. I am well into the second draft of a sequel to A Time and a Place.
If you have any advice on how I can do better, let me know in the comments.
Oh, and if you’re interested in a copy of A Time and a Place?