Job Opportunity: Publicity Workshop Leader (Canada)

Work with Writers from Coast to Coast

The Writers’ Union is seeking two members who are subject matter experts and skilled presenters to create and deliver professional development workshops on the topic of “How to be Your Own Publicist.”

Specifically we are seeking one member who can present on traditional but innovative book marketing and one who can present on maximizing digital marketing platforms and new media.  Both presenters should have a track record of success in self-marketing and be engaging speakers.

Each presenter will be responsible for:

§         developing and delivering three-hour presentations in a series of full-day workshops in five Canadian cities,

§         developing and delivering a condensed presentation for two shorter webcast sessions, and

§         providing a 600-word article based on their presentation for publication in Write magazine.

All workshops are expected to be delivered in February or March in 2012 and again in 2013.

Fees, travel and accommodation are paid in accordance with the program budget.

The Professional Development program is made possible with assistance from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Its purpose is to enhance the careers of book writers, whether unpublished, emerging, or established.

Interested members are invited to submit an expression of interest including:

§         an outline of their proposed presentation, and

§         a brief bio highlighting their self-marketing and presentation experience

to Kelly Duffin, Executive Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada. Submission deadline is September 16, 2011.

For any questions, contact Kelly at or 416-703-8982 ext 221.

[Photo: Jasoon]


Pre-order Epistolophilia

My second book is now a virtual reality at the University of Nebraska Press (never mind that it doesn’t even have a cover image yet! Ha!). I’m expecting the copy edit in a matter of weeks, then proofs, then voilà!

If you’re the kind of person who likes to have all her ducks in a row, click here to be among the first to own Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė.

[Image: virtual reality by OlivIreland]


Call for Submissions: “CNF Conversations”

I’d like to start a new section here called “CNF Conversations.” (CNF stands for Creative Nonfiction). I propose to do post shortish interviews with authors of recently published works of creative nonfiction: biographies, autobiographies, memoir, collections of essays, mixed genre, and whatever else, as long as it’s nonfiction.

I’m looking for fine writing.

To get a better idea of the sorts of texts that might fit the bill, please browse the “Life-blood” category.

If you are a writer of nonfiction and have a recent book about which you’d like me to consider chatting with you (by email), please get in touch through the Contact page.

[Photo: timojazz]


Revisiting the question of titles

I recently joined a women’s writing network called Shewrites, and have been following a discussion on titles. People post their working titles, and the community reacts. On the one hand, it’s a great opportunity to get a lot of quick feedback. But on the other, it’s made me realize that we’re not all on the page when thinking about what makes a good title. So I wanted to raise the question here again.

There have been objections to titles put forth on the Shewrites list on the grounds that they don’t tell exactly what a book is about. It’s an objection I struggle with a lot, especially since I write non-fiction. But, as I look around my study and at some of my favorite books of non-fiction, here’s what I see:

The Year of Magical Thinking
Algerian White
Autobiography of Red

I, for one, like titles that hint rather than baldly declare what the book is about. I like titles that are evocative and a bit poetic. I like titles that reveal their meanings fully once you’re part-way through a text. But I may be in the minority in this respect.

I’m interested to hear what you think is important in a title. How much does a title have to tell you? How tolerant of the abstract are we when it comes to titles? What are your favorites, and why?

[Photo: sleeping sun]


What makes a good book title? Lulu can help.

Titles are my Achilles heel. I’m really, really bad at them.

One problem is that I favour the abstract and poetic: titles whose meaning becomes clear only once you’ve read the book. For example, I wanted to call my first book “Welcome to Elkader” (instead of “Silence is Death”), but that was roundly rejected at the press as being way too obscure.

So what makes a good title?

Judging from what’s floating around the interwebs, conventional wisdom boils down to the following (which, frankly, all seems pretty obvious):

1) A title’s got to be easy to remember.

2) It should be descriptive.

3) It should avoid all the usual pitfalls: cliché, sappiness, clunkiness, being overly literal. . . And apparently, it shouldn’t be a full grammatical sentence (oops).

That said, I do love internet tools when it comes to titles, especially those gimmicky generators, where you plug in a noun, verb, a gerund, etc.

There’s got to be some mathematical calculation or algorithm that will determine success, so when I came across the “Lulu Titlescorer,” I had to give it a whirl.

Here’s what Lulu does (from the website):

The Lulu Titlescorer has been developed exclusively for Lulu by statisticians who studied the titles of 50 years’ worth of top bestsellers and identified which title attributes separated the bestsellers from the rest.

We commissioned a research team to analyse the title of every novel to have topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List during the half-century from 1955 to 2004 and then compare them with the titles of a control group of less successful novels by the same authors.

The team, lead by British statistician Dr. Atai Winkler, then used the data gathered from a total of some 700 titles to create this “Lulu Titlescorer” a program able to predict the chances that any given title would produce a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

How could I resist? I plugged in a few titles from my long-list in Lulu. (My book is about a Lithuanian librarian who saved Jews during the Holocaust by hiding them in the university library where she worked. It will require a descriptive subtitle not included in the options below.)

Interestingly, my working title, Beloved Profession (what I’ve been calling the book for about five years now), scored highest. And my current favourite, Ex Libris, scored lowest.

The results:

Beloved Profession = 69.0% chance of being a bestselling title

Margin = 63.7 % chance of being a bestselling title

The Good Librarian = 41.4% chance of being a bestselling title

The Librarian = 35.9% chance of being a bestselling title

Ex Libris = 26.3% chance of being a bestselling title


[Photo: jayRaz]


Life-blood: Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson, Jane: A Murder. Soft Skull Press, 2005.

I read Maggie Nelson’s book after a Temple University professor recommended it to me as an example of writing that, like my own, was hybrid in form.

Jane tells about the author’s search for traces of her aunt who was brutally raped then killed in the late 1960s, before Nelson herself was born. The book is written as a series of poems, some of which are tiny and aphoristic, like the one from 1966 that goes simply “Cigarettes — one after another — why?” (188). But the story moves compellingly and fearlessly forward. Nelson weaves together fragments of Jane’s writing and other documentary material with her own reflections on life, death, memory, mourning, silence, violence, family secrets, coming of age, and the passage of time.

This is one of those problematic books that I love and publisher’s marketing departments hate: neither poetry nor prose, neither fact nor fiction, both memoir and biography. It’s a tightly controlled, exquisitely honed piece of writing whose beauty hurts, and that should serve as an example of what is possible when writing a life.

With Jane, Maggie Nelson has achieved something difficult: she’s made an anonymous life matter. And she’s done it without sentimentality or cliché. Read it. It may be the best book I’ve read all year.

(NB: “Life-blood” posts point to the work of other writers who, for some reason, have left on a mark on my thinking about how to write a life.)

[Photo by Jeff Westover]