the book author’s place in the changing digital landscape

The highlight of my past week was attending a professional development symposium put on by The Writers Union of Canada (TWUC) in Winnipeg as part of a travelling roadshow across the country. I’ll share the highlights of the symposium with you here, but for more about TWUC and the professional development opportunities it offers, check out this link:

I have learned much from my colleagues in the Writers Union of Canada.

I have learned much from my colleagues in the Writers Union of Canada.

I joined TWUC several months ago and recommend it to be a very positive move for any established author looking to advance his/her skills in the world of book publishing. Anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog for the past year knows that I am a “joiner” and belong to no less than five writers’ associations (plus other writing and arts related orgs such as ACI and Toastmasters.) As I write across genres (travel, lifestyle, business, volunteerism and personal growth) and mediums (books, periodicals, websites) I believe each of these organizations serves a unique purpose in my career development as a writer.

The TWUC symposium was beneficial in two ways: it reinforced that what I have already been doing is on the right track, and it gave me some tips on what I could do differently or better. “Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape” was presented by TWUC executive director, Deborah Windsor and members, Ross Laird and Betsy Warland and really emphasized the importance of an author developing his/her “author’s platform” in the digital environment.

Over the past year I have spent countless hours building that platform. I started this blog a year ago, joined Twitter in July/09, had my website professionally redesigned in December, have expanded my presence and involvement on Linked In and have launched a fan page for my new book, “Before You Say Yes …” at Please join if you haven’t already.

A lot of writers and authors can’t seem to get their heads around the idea of spending numerous unpaid hours promoting themselves and their work via social media. But it’s much more than just promoting yourself. Social media enables us to reach out around the world — yes, for the purpose of reaching more readers for what we write, but also to develop networks and establish connections in areas in which we would like to expand or learn more.

Did you know that one in three Canadians are on Facebook? That’s an amazing statistic, and an interesting comparison to the US, where only one tenth of Americans use that social platform to communicate. Facebook is by far the largest social network in the world, with 430 million users. In second place is Windows Live Profile, with 164 million users, followed by MySpace with 110 million users. Twitter is coming up from behind with 58 million users — an amazing figure, showing a growth rate of more than 1,500% over the past year!

Why is that important to authors? Because there are fewer literary booksellers left to help promote our work to the book-buying public. Publishers are under-staffed and under-funded. Print publications are losing book review space. So everyone is turning their attention to the potential of the internet.

Anyone born after 1990 already has the internet firmly embedded in their beings. It is pretty much in their every thought and action. But those of us born before 1990 have had to learn the importance and benefits of the digital world to our personal lives, and our careers as successful authors. Some of us have had to be pulled kicking and screaming into this new world. Others have entered willingly and embrace the endless opportunities offered by the digital world.

At the symposium, we were reminded that creative adaptability and tenacity are critical qualities for today’s commercially successful writers.  Even previously published authors are having trouble securing favourable contracts in today’s marketplace. We’ve got to work harder and smarter to make ourselves stand out from everyone else. We’ve got to take responsibility for the success or failure of our work on a commercial level.

Did you know that 80% of author’s advances in Canada are not earned back? I found that figure startling! Particularly considering how low most advances in Canada have been.

Which brings us back to the need for a fully developed author’s platform. If you tweet and blog about your book or literary works, more people will learn about it. If you have a Facebook fan page for your book(s), anytime anyone joins as a fan, it is listed as an update for all their FB friends to see, who in turn may click on your page to see what it’s all about. And with 1/3 of all Canadians on Facebook, that means the possibility of reaching a huge audience of ages reaching from grandparents to tweens.

If you don’t have your own website, get one! Laird recommends owning the domain of “your own name”.com and .ca, citing, “It only costs $10/year to park a domain, and you can have any and all domains you own pointing to your primary site. Don’t have a website through your ISP. Have your own domain name and look like a professional.”

Good advice and much information to ponder. We walked away from the symposium learning more about contracts and the various challenges facing today’s writers and authors. And knowing that the time is now to build — and expand –that platform.

For more on building your author’s platform, visit Joanna Penn’s website at:
Her advice has helped me tremendously over the past year.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on social media and whether you are an enthusiast, a resister, or whether you have taken baby steps and are beginning to see the potential, but have a long way to go.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

13 Responses

  1. wizardofwords says:

    I checked in with Deb Windsor, ED of TWUC and got these answers in respect to Heather's Q's:

    Yes publishers are cutting back on advances, while requiring more rights from the author. Publishers are also looking at works from a marketing perspective rather than a literary perspective and this translates into different works being published.

    Although we have no tracking system to confirm when an author receives an advance, anecdotal information clearly indicates that the amount of an advance is decreasing.

    As long as the author's contract identifies that advances are not to be repaid (and this is common) the author is not required to repay unearned advances. There is no tracking method to identify the default rate. Publishers publish books that lose money and there is no way that a contract can prevent that loss. Publisher’s margin of profit is normally around 1.5% so when a book looses money the loss is distributed over the revenue generated by other books. The market is tight.

    And regarding bestsellers in Canada, today – "sales of 2,500 copies" is considered a best seller.

    Hope that helps, Heather.

  2. wizardofwords says:

    Amanda, I've just made the time to check out your blog. I love it! Have posted a few comments in response to your postings, and have now added your blog to my list of favourites.

    Yes, I agree with what you've said here. Blogging is such a wonderful process for writers. The ideas for 3 books have come to me because of the blogging process.

    As much as social media is a time sucker, it is a marvellous place to be. Please drop in here again soon.

  3. Amanda Le Rougetel says:

    For me, social media have given me new and inspiring outlets for my writing and thinking. I started a blog ( a while back and enjoy disciplining myself to post short pieces only. I'm a very irregular poster, but I love the process when I do it. FB is the other medium I use in the social media category – it's a totally different space and I like the informality of tone and variety of content that I see through my contacts and connections. One of the most interesting thing to do, I think, is to post a question and then see who responds – and what they say. Asynchronous conversations can be fun – and meaningful, too, I've discovered.

  4. wizardofwords says:

    Hi Heather:
    Advances are definitely going down – both in Canada and the US. I'm on a listserv with some prominent US travel/niche writers who were getting $30-100K USD for advances over the past years and they said it's unlikely/impossible to get the same levels today. I had to push hard to even get the small advance I got for my current book (from a Cdn publisher.)

    I think most authors do get advances on their books, but unfortunately, some are very small (i.e. what most of us could earn from a magazine article.) . Not sure about the paying back of advances. I don't know anyone who's had to do that.

    And yes, as far as I know 5,000 is still the mark of a Canadian bestseller.

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Heather Kent says:

    Re your comment from the workshop about 80% of author advances not being earned back, I'm curious about several things…. Does that mean that in response, publishers are now decreasing the amounts they advance or becoming more selective about which authors they give advances to? I wonder how many authors do receive advances now – do you know? And for those authors who have not earned their advances back, are they all repaying them? I wonder what the default rate is like? Or do the publishers have that covered somehow in their contracts?
    Finally, I believe 5000 sales used to give a book bestseller status in Canada. Do you know whether that is still the case or has it gone up – or down?

  6. wizardofwords says:

    Great, Suzanne! I think you'll find TWUC to be very worthwhile. Different than PWAC, but still worthwhile. And you don't have to wait until your book is published to join. You can apply once you have a signed contract from your publisher. Another reason to get that first contract signed! Good luck with it.

  7. suzanneboles says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Doreen. Looking forward to joining TWUC after I fulfill this year's goal to get a book published.

  8. Christine Peets says:

    One other note: just as someone who'd won an Oscar said last night about being creative never being a waste of time, marketing and promotion via social media and other networks is also never a waste of time–even though it's upaid time. You just have to find the balance.

  9. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Christine. I think you're right about the 30 and under crowd. They seem to prefer everything in a digital format vs paper.

    And thanks, also for Joanna for dropping in. Hope to see you here again.

  10. Christine Peets says:

    I would say that anyone born after 1980 has the internet firmly embedded in their DNA. I know our sons look to the internet for everything. (I needed to look up a phone number once at their place, and the phone book was still in the original wrapping!) Many friends and family are the same way, especially those who are younger than me. Whether it's kicking and screaming or not, you've either got to be on this social media road or you'll get left behind.

    I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I use them differently, and see them all as one way of promoting myself and my work, and staying in touch with friends and family. They are networking tools, each with varying degrees of marketing success. I see networking as planting a seed that you never know how or when will blossom into something bigger.

    I only belong to one group right now, but I see the value of belonging to others and will be expanding my memberships this year. Can I afford to do this right now, when my income is lower due to cutbacks in work? Not really, but the question really is "Can I afford not to?"

    Thanks so much for getting this discussion going, Doreen. I look forward to hearing how others use social media.

  11. Joanna Penn says:

    Thanks so much for the mention Doreen – all the best with your writing and promotion.


  12. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for getting the discussion going, Tracey.

    We all need to find the formula that works best for us and it sounds like you're on the right track. Good luck, and yes, the possibilities are endless!

  13. Tracey Arial says:

    I've had my own website for years now, but I recently redesigned it with the intention of building a profile as a social justice writer and eventually also self-publisher. The areas where I promote myself are finished, so now I just have to add the value-added material that will encourage people to pay for more. (I hope.) It's all a big experiment, and I'm counting on retaining my relationship with my current publisher partners while branching out on my own at the same time.

    I've also been a member of Facebook for years, primarily because it's the best way to keep up with family and friends around the world.

    In the past few months, I've started experimenting with Linked In and Twitter as well, not only because I want to reach out to potential readers but also to find and join communities of caring people who want to make the world better for everyone. I've discovered all sorts of wonderful projects about culture, ecology, political action and history that I didn't know existed. Some of them are right here in Montreal too. It's all very rewarding.

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