Writers consider opening Union to self-publishers

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The CBC reports that the Writers’ Union of Canada will vote later this month on whether to let self-published authors into their currently closed shop.

Under its current eligibility requirements, writers “must have had a trade book published by a commercial or university press, or the equivalent in another medium” to qualify for membership in the 1,900-member organization.

Like other elements of the industry, however, the organization finds itself caught in a transition from a 20th century business model, where publishers and their editorial staffs controlled a writer’s access to the market, and a new digital model, where writers can become best-sellers by publishing their own works as ebooks or print-on-demand volumes, then distributing them through such popular platforms as Amazon, Kobo or Lulu.

While once the eligibility requirement might have been useful for separating the wheat of quality authors from the chaff of vanity scribblers, the success of writers like E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) has changed perceptions. In April, for instance, self-publishers made up five of the 10 books on Digital Book World’s ebook bestseller list.

With those kinds of results, it’s difficult to cling to the notion that an author who has sold millions of copies of her books is somehow less professional than a traditionally published Canadian writer with sales in the thousands.

The landscape of Canadian publishing has also changed dramatically since the golden age of the 1960s and 1970s, when the Writers’ Union came into existence.

In recent years, Canada has seen the rise of multinational publishing conglomerates, along with consolidation that has consumed many home-grown publishing icons. At the same time, there has been a blossoming of small presses – some set up specifically to produce and market the works of only one or two authors.

Published writing and professional authorship aren’t what they used to be.

Writers’ Union members are scheduled to vote on the issue at their annual general meeting in Ottawa at the end of May.

Ontario Arts Council celebrates big 5 – 0

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Break out the champagne! The Ontario Arts Council is turning 50.

In a news release, the council said its establishing legislation was given final reading in the Ontario Legislature on this day in 1963, setting up an arts funding body to foster the creation and production of art for the benefit of all Ontarians.

“What started as an idea from a small group of committed volunteers has grown to support a province-wide arts infrastructure that not only contributes to our quality of life but also provides crucial economic benefits,” said OAC chair Martha Durdin in the release.

Last year, the council funded 1,681 artists and 1,125 organizations in support of the creation of more than 12,000 new artistic works.

The OAC assists writers, storytellers and spoken-word artists through its Literature programs, and encourages the development, publication and presentation of new works of literary significance in the province.

Its publishing programs help book publishers develop, print, promote and distribute new literary work, and support magazines that showcase Canadian writers and provide critical commentary on arts and culture. In addition, its Literature Office funds festivals and reading series that present the work of Ontario’s literary writers and publishers.

In coming months, many OAC funding recipients across the province will be marking the birthday with special activities.

 

It’s official – news reporters are the pits

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Writers who want to parlay their literary skills into a print journalism career might want to take a look at the CareerCast “worst jobs of the year” list before they commit to their new profession.

As Poynter’s Caitlin Johnson reports, “newspaper reporter” finished at the absolute bottom of a ranking of 200 jobs in the list of 2013’s worst. Working journalists have probably suspected as much for years, but now it’s out there for the rest of the world to see.

The profession has been officially labelled as the worst possible career choice for young job seekers.

There are the usual reasons for the abysmal ranking – low pay, high stress, long hours and so forth. The downsides of journalism are well documented, and were once considered part of the “glamour” of the profession.

But the normal newsroom despair has been amplified in recent years by the slow death of print news outlets. The industry is shrinking. And it is shedding jobs as fast as it can in a scramble to survive — throwing reporters off the sleigh, so to speak, to keep the wolves of insolvency at bay.

As a result, today’s news reporter faces fewer job openings, limited prospects for advancement, higher work demands and an extraordinary level of job uncertainty as publishers sell off, downsize, outsource, close down and migrate to the Internet.

In other words, print journalism would be a very poor career choice for a well-educated, articulate, hard-working writer.

But all is not lost. Writers could try churning out books instead of labouring fruitlessly in the newsroom graveyards of broken dreams. Fiction or non-fiction seems to make no never-mind.

“Author” managed to crack the CareerCast’s 200 best jobs of 2013 list, coming in at #156, just ahead of bus driver, welder, hotel manager and garbage collector. Of course, almost every other job you can think of came out ahead of anything to do with writing (auditor, financial planner, computer-related jobs, a bunch of stuff to do with health care).

But if you insist on trying to write for a living….

Ajax girds for influx of writers

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There are just a few days left to register for the 2013 Ontario Writers’ Conference at the Deer Creek Golf and Banquet Facility in Ajax next month.

The event kicks off on Friday, May 3 with master classes for experienced writers from 1 to 4 p.m., followed by the Festival of Authors from 7 to 10 p.m. The Festival, which is open to the public, features emcee Ted Barris of Uxbridge and guest readers Miranda Hill, Ray Robertson and Susan Swan.

On Saturday, May 4, registered participants will enjoy a day of workshops and lectures, wrapped up by closing speaker Deborah Kimmett.

To register by the April 24 deadline, visit the Conference website. For the non-registered public, tickets for the Festival of Authors are $20 and available online at the conference website or by e-mailing info@thewritersconference.com.

Stephen King to open Festival of Authors

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The Kings are coming! The Kings are coming!

PEN Canada has announced that celebrated novelist Stephen King and his writer son, Owen King, will headline the opening night of the 34th International Festival of Authors on October 24 at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

In his only scheduled Canadian event, Stephen will join Owen and moderator Louise Penny, an award-winning mystery writer, in a discussion of the writing life. Proceeds from the event, at $100 a ticket, will assist PEN in its work on behalf of literary freedom in Canada and abroad.

“We are thrilled that Stephen and Owen King are supporting the work of PEN,” said PEN Canada president Charlie Foran. “The evening promises to be a rare glimpse of an intimate father-son conversation about life and art.”

A native of Portland, Maine, Stephen King has become one of the world’s most successful writers, with more than 50 books published over a 39-year career. Son Owen is the author of Double Feature: A Novel and We’re All in This Together: A Novella and Stories. His writing has appeared in Fairy Tale Review, Guernica, One Story, and Prairie Schooner, among other publications.

Tickets for the general public go on sale Thursday, and are available either by phone from the Harbourfront Centre box office or online at the Festival website.

Administered by Authors at Harbourfront Centre, this year’s 34th annual IFOA takes place from October 24 to November 3, 2013.

PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.

Festival hosts ‘Future of Book’ debate

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Organizers are expecting a lively discussion at Spur Festival’s The Future of the Book debate tomorrow in Toronto.

With a focus on the impact of new technologies on the future of the book, the session will see Paul Holdengräber of LIVE at the New York Public Library and Hugh McGuire of LibriVox and PressBooks in discussion with moderator Sarah Fulford of Toronto Life.

Obsolescence or rebirth? What’s in store for this venerable vehicle as it loses “the weight of its physical pages and covers?” Drop into the Spur event to find out.

Although admission is free, tickets are required to get into the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. debate.

The discussion is part of the Spur Toronto festival that runs from April 11 to 14.

Canadian poet takes up e-residence

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The Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop will kick-off its e-Writer in Residence for the spring of 2013 at a reading/meet-and-greet session in Thunder Bay later this month.

The event, to be held April 22 at the Brodie Library, will introduce Marilyn Dumont, a Canadian poet of Cree/Métis descent, who will provide manuscript critiques and workshops for regional writers until May. On April 23, the new e-Writer in Residence will hold a poetry workshop.

Dumont is the second e-writer in residence for the writers’ group, following a successful program in 2011.

She has been published in numerous Canadian literary journals, and her work has been widely anthologized as well as broadcast on radio and television. Her first collection won the 1997 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, presented by the League of Canadian Poets, for the best first collection of poetry that year by a Canadian writer. Her second collection won the 2001 Stephan G. Stephansson Award from the Writer’s Guild of Alberta.

Dumont, who has taught at Simon Fraser University, Kwantlen University-College and the University of Alberta, has been writer-in-residence at the universities of Alberta, Windsor and Toronto and at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.

The Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop is a group of writers from the region who provide inspiration and support through workshops, a newsletter, and a writing contest.

Further information on the group and its e-Writer in Residence program is available by email at admin@nowwwriters.org or on the group’s website.