Writers consider opening Union to self-publishers


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

Kindle tests ebook cover design tool


For indie authors who have been sweating blood over their ebook cover designs, there’s good news for a quick fix to this frustrating chore.

Digital Book World reports today that Amazon is developing a cover creation tool for its Kindle Direct Publishing platform for self-publishers. According to DBW, the KDP Cover Creator tool is now being tested by a limited number of authors, with full roll out expected soon.

Digital Reader, which broke the news in Nate Hoffelder’s April 3 blog, has screen shots of the beta version and some comments from readers who had tried it.

According to DBW, the Kindle tool will “come with access to thousands of royalty free images in an image gallery and will also allow for users to upload their own art. A variety of pre-programmed layouts, color schemes and fonts will also be included.”


Journalism group looks at media innovation


What will the next generation of journalism look like?

The Canadian Journalism Foundation will take a crack at the question of media innovation when it hosts a talk in Toronto on Thursday, January 31. Titled Journalism, Disrupted: How to Create Media Innovation, the discussion will focus on what traditional media companies can learn from tech start-ups and how a spirit of innovation can be fostered within newsrooms.

Marissa Nelson, acting director of digital media for CBC News and Centres, will moderate a panel featuring Zach Seward, senior editor at Atlantic Media’s device-centric business news venture Quartz; Michael De Monte, CEO of ScribbleLive; and David Skok, director of digital for Global News.

Tickets to the event at the TMX Broadcast Centre are $25 or $15 for students. You can register on the foundation’s website at http://cjfinnovation.eventbrite.com.

The Canadian Journalism Foundation promotes excellence in journalism by celebrating outstanding journalistic achievement through an annual awards program; by operating journalism websites, J-Source.ca (English) and ProjetJ.ca (French), in cooperation with the country’s leading journalism schools; by organizing events that facilitate dialogue among journalists, business people, government officials, academics and students about the role of the media in Canadian society; and by fostering opportunities for journalism education, training and research.

It is currently soliciting nominees for its annual Canadian Newsperson of the Year Award, for journalists who report or produce the news, or run or own newsgathering organizations. Deadline for nominations is January 21.

Five vie for political writing prize


The Writers’ Trust of Canada has announced its five finalists for the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, with the winner to be announced in Ottawa on March 6, 2013.

Spotlighted topics include a tour of razor-wire barricades, options for urban transit, Canada’s move from peacekeeping to war, the state of Canadian health care, and amalgamation in Montreal.

Finalists, who will each receive $2,500, are Marcello Di Cintio (Walls: Travels Along the Barricades), Taras Grescoe (Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile), Noah Richler (What We Talk About When We Talk About War), Jeffrey Simpson (Chronic Condition: Why Canada’s Health-Care System Needs to be Dragged into the 21st Century) and Peter F. Trent (The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal).

Selection of finalists was made by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, columnist Tasha Kheiriddin, and novelist and translator Daniel Poliquin.

The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize is sponsored by Bell Media and supported by the Politics and the Pen Gala. Now in its thirteenth year, it is awarded annually to a non-fiction book that “captures a political subject of interest to Canadian readers and enhances our understanding of the issue.”

Shaughnessy Cohen was the Liberal MP for the riding of Windsor-St. Clair from 1993 until her death in 1998, when she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while addressing the House of Commons.