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Category Archives: writing

Chapter and Verse

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April is poetry month.

Still with me? Okay, good. I appreciate that most people don’t “do” poetry. They enivision enamoured young men penning verse to a radiant beauty, or a angsty young woman weeping over a notepad, The Bell Jar at her elbow.

For me, poems are like cats: if I come across one, I’ll pat it on the head, spend a bit of time, then send it on its way.

This does not mean I don’t recognize poetry’s importance. On the contrary: Poetry is distilled and direct. Poets have been persecuted, jailed, and killed for their words.

And yet, they persist.

Why? Read Eliza Griswold’s 2012 piece for the New York Times Magazine, “Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry.”

Meanwhile, here’s a rubaiyat (Arabic for “quatrain”) written by Lima and addressed to the Taliban:

You won’t allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.

Self-Employed Freelancing Entrepreneur

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Freelancing is entrepreneurship.

Some don’t see it that way. Indeed, I don’t describe myself as such. When asked what I do, I say that I’m a freelance editor. The term entrepreneur conjures images of people selling widgets as seen on Dragons’ Den. But going into business for yourself is by definition entrenurial: you invest in yourself, both time and money, and risk losing both. By no means is it license to print money. Sure you can write certain things off (at least partially), but you also write off parts of your life. You run the business but the business also runs you.

In his article for Briarpatch, Ryerson professor Alan Sears critiques what he calls “The Canadian Cult of the Entrepreneur”; the idea that entrepreneurship is the cure for all that ails us. I agree that it isn’t. Running a small business can be extremely risky. Some people succeed and grow, but many more don’t and lose everything: their money, their house, their marriage. Others tread water, which can be just as stressful. One spouse often has a “real” job with a steady paycheque while the other runs the shop. Then if the entrepreneur needs to hire staff, well, now the responsibility has trebled. Employees rely on the business for a living. And if a small business goes under, the bank gets first dibs, not the employees who worked to help grow the business.

As for a safety net . . . .crickets Most freelancers I know rely on their spouses for things like health insurance and so on. And if you’re not married. . . . more crickets There’s no unemployment or pension and no short- or long-term disability, unless you buy insurance.

Employees who work for a small business most likely don’t have health insurance, let alone a compensation package rivalling those offered by large corporations.

And yet entreprenures are touted not only as the saviours of the economy but the answer for youth unemployment and First Nations poverty, among other things. That’s a lot of pressure for a business that could go bankrupt due to a critical illness. More important, it lets government and big business off the hook.

Frankly, many people are not cut out to run a business. It takes discipline and a strong stomach.

A few months ago I was chatting with a recently laid-off marketing person who was enamoured with the idea of self-employment. “My colleagues love it! They’ve never looked back!”

“Yeah, it’s great!” I said. “But feast and famine, you know. It’s all about cash flow.”

She looked at me. “Huh?”

I explained that I wasn’t working at the moment; that it was a slow period; that the invoices I’d earned by working seven-day weeks for about two months straight had all been paid up so I had to drum up work or use my savings, which I prefered not to do.*

“Seven days a week for two months?”

“Oh, yeah. Deadlines. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.”

Suddenly I wasn’t that much fun to “network” with anymore.

*Note: One of the advantages of self-employment is that you can take a vacation more or less when you want for as long as you want. The disadvantage: you don’t work, so you don’t get paid. However, if you plan for it, it’s doable. That said, it can eat into your savings. Also, you have to check your email to book projects so you have work when you return home. Depending on what you do, you can work abroad. Check out The Nomadic Editor to learn more.

Getting Yer Backup

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Kickin' it Old Skool

Kickin’ it Old Skool

Preppers may be on to something.

I don’t mean stockpiling canned beets in case of the zombie apocalypse or making bows and arrows out of your neighbour’s sapling.

No, I mean being prepared, ready for the worst–or at least the very bad. I once worked for a guy who didn’t believe in B plans. Then the company went under and we were all laid off. Me, I usually have B plans, C plans even. What will happen if something goes well, what will happen if it goes okay, what will happen if it all goes to shit? I’m ready. When I was laid off, I had plan and it worked out like clockwork mostly. There were things I missed that I will plan for next time, but largely I was ready.

I was prepared and had my backups.

One editor I knew scoffed at the idea of backups. Nothing was worth keeping, she said. I was shocked. The idea still makes my stomach drop. What if you lose something? What if you need that document, phone number, photo, email? I’m a little old school: paper, scans, CDs. Check, check, check. I’m a fan of clouds for some documents. Multiple clouds. Friggen weather systems full of ’em.

Oh, I hear some of you sneer, “The Internet keeps everything. You can’t escape it. Everything is on the web.” Is it? I edited a friend’s CV and found a dead link for an essay she wanted to include. Not even the Wayback Machine could find it. Don’t believe me? Ask Carter Maness. He’ll tell you. When asked what he’d done lately, he couldn’ t find it and documented his experince for The Awl, “All My Blogs Are Dead.”

That said, we all know what will stay online for all posterity: photos of cats, food, and twenty-somethings being drunk and stupid.

If that doesn’t get yer backup, I don’t know what will.

Shameless Self-Promo of Papersafe

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Papersafe Issue #4

Papersafe Issue #4

When I’m not editing other people’s work, I’m writing my own. My piece of creative non-fiction, “Not Fade Away,” will appear in the fourth edition of Papersafe, a US photographic journal. The issue’s theme is memory: “How does photography help or hinder the process of remembering, or conversely, the process of forgetting?”

If you pre-order before March 25, you’ll get a copy at a special reduced rate. Don’t wait! Order now! Operators are standing by.

What to Do When You’re Waiting for Work

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Ring, dammit!

Ring, dammit!

Slow periods are the bane of the freelancer’s existence. You’ve met your deadlines, you’ve invoiced the jobs. Now what? As an inveterate list maker, I present a list of what to do during a slow period:

    1. Brush the bog. Sooner you do it, the sooner it’s done. And it’s looking pretty disgusting.

    2. Catch up on your bookkeeping. Tax time looms.

    3. Vacuum your work area.

    4. File crap. Keep, recycle, shred. Maybe you should vacuum after you shred, in case, you . . . uh . . . drop a shit ton of shredded paper on the carpet.

    5. Laundry.

    6. Organize your passwords. LastPass is great for this. Wait, you do have more than one password, right?

    7. In the name of all that’s holy, change your passwords!

    8. Read three months’ worth of blogs and Facebook articles you’ve been saving for later.

    9. Tweet them. You gotta stay top of mind and, hey, it’s better than tweeting about lunch or your friggen cat.

    10. Right a blog post about what to do during a slow period.

Je Suis Charlie

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Je Suis Charlie
I wish I could be more articulate. I wish I could be brave enough back up the “Je suis Charlie” sign I held aloft with a pen last night at a vigil in Toronto. This is the best I can muster.

On January 7, 2015, twelve people were murdered because three people didn’t like what nine of them wrote; because they ridiculed Islam. Twelve families suffered at the hands of three people. Twelve circles of friends suffered. The staff at Charlie Hebdo suffered. Readers of Charlie Hebdo suffered. Writers and illustrators suffered. We all suffered because three small cowardly people believed what a bully pontificated; because their beliefs took precedence over twelve lives. Perhaps they think they will have salvation or that a million virgins await them in heaven. I think they’re wrong. I think they’ll be worm food just like the twelve people they murdered. They’re no different, except for the fact that Frederic Boisseau (custodian), Franck Brinsolaro (body guard), Jean “Cabu” Cabut (cartoonist), Elsa Cayat (columnist), Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier (editor-in-chief), Philippe Honore (cartoonist), Bernard Maris (journalist), Ahmed Merabet (police officer), Mustapha Ourrad (proofreader), Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac (cartoonist), and Georges Wolinski (cartoonist) will be remembered.

To coin a phrase: Charlie Hebdo is dead. Long live Charlie Hebdo.

A Fair Wage

I recently wrote about Penguin and HarperCollins moving their warehouses to the United States, and that while this is yet another bump in the road for Canadian publishing, small and medium houses can keep our homegrown authors on track and their books in front of readers. There is hope on that front.

Paying said authors, however, has become a problem. I wrote that we have to change our expectations in terms of advances, royalties, formats, print runs, etc. What I meant by that is this: Stop signing eye-watering six-figure deals and reduce them to an amount that ensures you have more money to sign new authors at a living wage. I’m thinking less of the well-known authors than I am of the celebs, starlets, and flavours of the moment found online, such as Anna Todd. She reportedly gained nearly than a billion readers on Wattpad for her romance serial, After, which she wrote a chapter at a time with the help of readers’ online comments: “I could never sit by myself and write and entire book. I’m not the best writer. I can tell a story, so that was why writing socially was really great for me.” Todd signed a six-figure, three-book deal with Simon and Schuster, along with a movie deal with Paramount.

To be clear, I haven’t read Todd’s book, and I doubt I will. My issue isn’t with her ability or the genre or even with how she was discovered; my issue is with the amount she was paid for what was essentially a hobby when people who write for a living must be happy with anything they scrape up. A $7,500 advance for one book isn’t uncommon for new authors. It isn’t a lot when you consider who much time when into actually writing the manuscript, let alone the time for editing, proofreading, and promoting.

When interviewed by the Toronto Star, John Degan, executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, estimated that in Canada, “The average income for authors from book royalties, etc., is about $10,000 a year. . . . There are the bestsellers, but for a lot of writers it’s really supplemental income—they’re also teaching, running writers’ unions or working for newspapers.”

Award-winning author Camilla Gibb opens her Globe and Mail piece with this stark reminder: “When author Richard Flanagan finished his latest novel, relative poverty forced him to contemplate getting a job in the mines in northern Australia. His Booker Prize win has spared him a life underground for the time being, but he did not waste the opportunity to acknowledge in his speech that ‘writing is a hard life for so many writers.’”

Although most authors don’t have to dig coal, many have to work part-time in the salt mines that can be book retail, especially at Christmas when flogging copies of After will feel like salt in the wounds.

Crowdfunding for authors: Spread the love…and the risk

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Crowdfunding for authors: Spread the love…and the risk


By Carol Harrison

How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a big fortune.

Pretty gloomy, huh? Well, when stalwarts such as Key Porter Books (2010) and Douglas and McIntyre (2012) go bankrupt or must sell off their assets, it sends shivers up the spines of not only established authors but also those wanting to get established.

You can self-publish your book, but anyone who’s done so knows it can be a big financial commitment—even if you create an ebook to avoid PP&B (paper, printing, and binding) costs. The thing still needs to be edited, proofread, and designed. (And, yes, many ebooks have “covers” to gain visual marketing traction.)

Many authors (or, better, entrepreneurs) are now turning to crowdfunding. In a 2011 study published by the Journal of Service Management, “‘crowdfunding’ is a collective effort by people who network and pool their money together, usually via…

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