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The Artist’s Basic Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 1: Build Your Brand

Posted by E on August 22, 2015

PART 1 – Build your Brand

Social-Media-Branding social media ideas

There is so much to say about this subject that I couldn’t do it justice in a single blog piece, so I decided to break up my points into a series of articles that I will be posting over the months to come. There are literally thousands of useful articles all over the internet on the topic of social media and developing an online presence, so I will mainly tailor this series to the artistic community – writers, media artists and anyone in the arts who is interested in building and/or expanding their artistic platform.

In my mind, there is no better place to start this conversation than at the very beginning – as Maria Von Trapp would say in Do-Re-Mi, it’s a very good place to start. And when it comes to the ABC’s of social media marketing, in my view there is no place better to start than the art of establishing your personal Brand.

Most of you are already familiar with using internet search engines like Google to expand your knowledge and drive your own self-taught process – that’s how you probably stumbled onto my blog. But I write this basic guide for the people I’ve met over the years who, on various author forums, boast with confidence that there’s no need to develop their brand until their books are complete and ready for publication.

That’s what a publisher and their marketing department are about,” is a phrase I’ve heard over and over. “I’m not going to be one of those shameless self-promoting ‘indie writers’. I want to go the traditional route so that all I concern myself with is my writing – and someone else takes care of everything, i.e. the editorial work, cover design, marketing, building my website, taking care of my press releases and book tours.”

Regardless of whether you plan to publish independently or have secured a trad contract (or are a hybrid author like me) if you still believe that someone else is going to hand you a career simply because you wrote a great book – and that’s earned you a free pass to publishing stardom – you are living in a dream world.

I am here to shatter that myth – both as an independent writer and as someone who was courted by a traditional Big Five publisher. This is not the case. Unless you’re already a bestselling writer, a highly-grossing celebrity or nepotistically connected to a publisher – in which case ghostwriters will actually write your books for you – everybody is expected to perform well past the moment you type “The End” on your manuscript.

 

pink typewriterIn my meetings with the editorial and marketing department heads at Penguin Canada prior to me deciding to self-publish my memoir Race Traitor, the most recurring questions were related to my social media platform. The expectation was that I would bring my own fans and branding to the table – this wasn’t an optional thing. It was a necessity and an expectation.

Their marketing department was going to assist with arranging media interviews and that sort of thing, but they weren’t going to build me a website, a blog or anything like that – in fact, they wanted to make sure I already had those things already in place and ready to go.

So where do you start? Do you have to enroll in a college course on marketing, or hire one of the infinitesimal droves of self-described social media consultants out there in order to develop your presence? As artists, we don’t have the budget for this sort of thing and more importantly, these are skills you’re best to acquire yourself rather than pay others to do for you. Of course there will be a learning curve – isn’t there one in everything? – but the sooner you learn these basic tips, the faster will you be on your way to having your own platform.

world before social mediaThe wireless world is expanding at an exponential rate, and whatever has been taught in a social marketing course two years ago is often obsolete or replaced by a hot new medium – Periscope and Snapchat, for instance, are products of the last couple of years. Social media, in general, is all about the next great fad. It’s about buzzwords and ideas, newly revolving angles that give birth to new opportunities.

In other words, social media changes on a daily basis. Everything you knew yesterday is now wrong. That is what’s most exciting about it – having to stay on your toes. So unless you are continually learning and keeping up to date in the field, degrees in social media marketing (which cost thousands of dollars) are going to become useless rather fast.

A 2015 article featured in Business Insider titled “The 10 Most Useless Graduate Degrees” placed marketing at number 2 on their list of the most degrees one can possess. And according to a 2013 Workopolis article that included a segment titled Ten jobs that won’t exist in ten years, ‘ Social Media Expert’ topped the list. Given all the contradictory media coverage of what constitutes an “expert”, it’s easy to see where anyone could grow confused.

Social-Media-ConfusionThere is nothing inherently wrong with hiring a pro if you’re stumped about what to do next – the right publicity expert, strategist and PR firm can be worth its weight in gold. But no matter how you proceed, you owe it to yourself to acquire the basic set of skills that you’re going to need in order to maintain a public image – and this goes far beyond having a Facebook Page and an Twitter account.

You can ask questions and acquire skills just by sitting in on a #hashtag Twitter discussion or participate in a LinkedIn group. You can look up new trends on Reddit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! By doing your research online, you can develop enough expertise to navigate the turbulent waters of the ever-evolving social media world – you may not become an expert, but you can attain many of the skills needed to establish a successful platform on the world wide web.

confusionSo where do you start? Simple – buy your own name domain. If you have a common name, put your middle initial in it, or use a diminutive. But no matter what, have your own domain – this is crucial. You don’t have to build a website – but you can point the URL to your own blog, or Facebook page, or wherever you want it to redirect.

If you’re developing a brand along with your name, buy the url for that brand. Don’t just assume that you can wait until you’re ready to build a site, because good domain names are hard to come by, and even if you own a trademark patent on a term, it doesn’t mean someone hasn’t already purchased the domain.

It’s not necessary to buy every url extension you can – but if at all possible, buy the .com. Let’s face it, .com is where it’s at – it’s the oldest and most recognized domain extension you can have. I strongly encourage you to also buy your own country’s extension – for instance, as a Canadian I own both the .com and the .ca to both my name AND my blog, as well as publishing company. Why your own country extension? Well, it wouldn’t really matter to me if there was an Incognito Press in Australia, would it? But I certainly wouldn’t want to compete with another Canadian company by the same name – this could lead to my own brand’s dilution and confusion among clients.

The first step I took before I started this blog was to make sure that incognitopress.com was available for purchase. It was only after I had purchased the domain that I began to develop my blog and brand identity. I own a couple of dozen domains – both for my real name and my pseudonyms, and various businesses. It might cost me a couple hundred dollars a year, but it’s a business tax write-off and a vital part of my brand development.

Few things are more heartbreaking than to have spent years building up a brand, put in the hours to write blog posts, form connections on social media platforms, and then realize that you didn’t pony up the $10 or less to register your brand name url. Sadly, this sort of thing has been overlooked even by people with degrees in social media marketing.

I’ve seen this type of situation happen over and over – with business owners having to fork over thousands of dollars to a cybersquatter and/or lawyer in order to recover their brand. However, if you haven’t patented/trademarked a title and you are not a well-known brand (i.e. your name isn’t Disney, Coca-Cola, Michael Jordan or Kevin Spacey – who incidentally spent over $30,000 to get the rights to kevinspacey.com back) you might be out of luck.

social media  social media expert

So to sum up:

1. Educate yourself online. Make sure you have a Facebook account, a public Facebook Page (these two are actually different things, don’t confuse them), a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter account. For people trying to build a professional brand, these four things are no longer optional. Remember that most sites have built-in tutorials and Help sections, so if you can’t figure out how YouTube, Reddit, Pintrest or Instagram work, they make it easy for you.

2. Start a blog if you can. My favourite platform is WordPress, but Blogger is very reliable as well. I’ve used both, and each has a plethora of customizable templates to choose from. I’ve heard good things about Tumblr.

3. Start a website. The most idiot-proof platform I’ve found to create a speedy website – even if you haven’t a clue what HTML is – is weebly.com. I’ll discuss it at length in a future post, but suffice it to say it’s a beautiful and very affordable drag-and-drop web-builder system that will have you online in no time.

4. Buy a) your name domain, and b) your business name domain. Either of these will help people reach you. You can point them to your blog or weebly website.

5. Make your business name easy to remember – that means NO dashes. People won’t remember if you tell them “my website is Elisa-dash-the-dash-writer-dot-com”.

6. Don’t make your domain name too long or confusing to spell.

7. If people constantly misspell your domain, consider buying the misspelled domain as well. (For example, if your surname is MacDonald vs McDonald). In my case, the Romanian form of my first name is Eliza. When Romanians google my name or enter the url (I get a sizeable amount of traffic from Romania), they often type “elizahategan.com”. So guess what? I bought that url and now point it to my current website. No more confusion – and no other Eliza can steal away my name domain!

8. Don’t let your domain ownership expire! There are lots of people who wait for domains to expire and buy them up, only to resell them at outrageous prices back to business owners desperate to get their branding back. Do you really want to be at the mercy of this new owner? Worse yet, what if they take your domain name and point it to an x-rated site? What if it’s a competitor who works in the same field as you?

9. Your social media skillset should not consist of merely posting to Facebook or Tweeting about your weekend. Nor should it take the form of constant self-promotions. When all I see in my feed is an author screaming ‘BUY MY BOOK! ON SALE TODAY ONLY’ ad nauseam, I either mute them or unfollow them. Some self-promotion is obviously okay, but why should I buy your book if you’re not interested in getting to know me and my own work? We’re all trying to establish a significant presence in our field, and there are good AND bad ways of going about it. Do not risk alienating potential friends and readers by badgering them with non-stop advertising. It’s transparent, it doesn’t work, and it actually hurts your brand’s self-respect.

10. Not all marketing takes place online! Old-fashioned human interaction is still one of the best ways to sell yourself and your work. Look up your local writing circles and artist networking groups. Read the flyers pinned to billboards at hipster hangouts, go and attend poetry reading nights, have fun at street fair events.

11. But before you go to all those conventions and register for those free talks, you’ve gotta have yourself some cool merch – i.e business cards or any kind of stuff to hand out so that people remember you. And for business cards, it’s Vistaprint all the way, baby! I’m one of their early adopters. Ten years ago I started buying business cards for practically nothing – just the cost of shipping. The quality and price are unbeatable – I’ve used them for business cards, postcards of my book covers, holiday cards and everything in between.

12. If there’s nothing in your area, start your own group! When I first joined Facebook, I didn’t see any GLBT writers groups present in my area (Toronto) so I started my own group, GLBT Writers in Toronto. Now we have about 200 members, and some of us have actually met offline!

So ultimately, remember that it takes a lot of time and effort to be an ‘overnight’ success. Here are some of my social media profiles, if you want to check them out for reference – and if you are active on any of these platforms, I would love to connect with you 🙂

My Author Website

Incognito Press Website

My Facebook Page

My Twitter

My LinkedIn profile

My Instagram

My Blogger Blog 

Me on Reddit

ts-elliot-risk-quote

READ PART TWO: Crowdfunding Your Project

READ PART THREE: The Importance of Blogging

READ PART FOUR: The Author’s 10-Step Guide to Creating a Media Kit

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in art, artist, life, perseverence, politics, press release, publishing, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became A Jew

Posted by E on August 10, 2015

Elisa Jerusalem cropped

I became a Jew on the day I was born, December 17. Thirty-eight years had passed between the moment my mother gave birth to me in Romania and the day I was formally accepted as a Jew by rabbis in a North American synagogue.

After I’d completed a year of study, my mentor rabbi informed me that I was ready to take the next step toward conversion – writing a formal essay explaining why I wanted to embrace the Jewish faith, and meeting with a Beit Din. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the term, a Beit Din is a rabbinical court assembly made up of three observant Jews (at least one of whom is a rabbi) who decide if a convert is fit to be accepted for conversion to Judaism.

Embracing Judaism was the last step along a journey of self-discovery that had taken me many years to explore, and I wanted to do this right – it was important to me that I should have a conversion process that followed the halacha (Jewish law) closely, which meant having a Beit Din made up of at least one rabbi, followed by a ritual immersion in a synagogue mikvah – a pool of water derived from natural sources.

It was the beginning of December and with my birthday right around the corner, it was only natural that I would schedule my Beit Din and Mikvah day on my birthday. How could I choose any other date? What better day to experience a spiritual rebirth and be formally acknowledged as Jewish?

The sun was shining brightly when I woke up early in the morning – too early in fact. The excitement and nervous butterflies churning in my stomach made it impossible to go back to sleep. ‘This is the last day I’ll wake up and not be Jewish,’ I thought. I busied myself by having a long shower, brushing and flossing my teeth, washing my hair and scrubbing my fingernails and toenails free of any traces of nail polish – there was to be no barrier between the body and the Mikvah water.

Brilliant sunshine illuminated the path toward the Beth Hillel synagogue where I would be formally interviewed. I knew it would be a beautiful day, and it turned out exactly as I’d imagined – how could such an important day ever be shrouded in clouds?

The rabbis met me in the lobby of the synagogue at noon. My Beit Din was composed of three ordained rabbis, all active members of the Rabbinical Assembly, although one had retired from his congregation. After everyone arrived, we walked over to the meeting room in the back of the synagogue. A long conference table split the room which could have seated twenty. The three rabbis sat on one side of the table, and I took a seat across from them.

“As we begin, I’d like you to tell us what brought you here and why you want to become Jewish,” Rabbi Levine said.

I summarized some of the key points that I wrote about in my conversion essay:

“The feeling that propels me toward Judaism isn’t as simple as breaking it down into words. It’s a feeling, an echo of something within myself that I am just now recognizing and giving voice to.

I feel that I have always been a Jew. I was born in the mid-1970s in communist Bucharest. Under Ceausescu’s dictatorship, Romania didn’t prioritize religion, choosing instead to indoctrinate their people to worship the State. I don’t remember either of my parents being religious in any way. We never went to church. I identified with my father’s family much more than my mother’s side. I stood out among my maternal cousins by being the black-haired, dark-eyed child who didn’t fit in. People said that my father and I ‘looked Jewish’.”

 Iosif Hategan age 15 Iosif and Ana

Above: me at age 11.  Centre: my father Iosif (Josef) at age 15.  Right: My father and grandmother Ana.

We emigrated to Canada when I was 11 years old. My father subsequently decided to return to Romania and died there when I was 13. I never had the opportunity to ask him all the questions I would have liked to know – Why did he hide his own heritage? Why did he feel ashamed of who he was?

I’ve had people tell me, Why bother to convert. Your father was a Jew, you don’t believe in Jesus as the messiah, so what’s the difference? But it bothers me that I am not recognized by all Jews as a fellow Jew because of my patrilineal descent, and I feel the need to undergo this formal process so that I can both learn much more about Judaism, and to feel like a “real” Jew.

In my soul, heart and mind, Judaism is more than a religion for me. It’s a shared history, a family and a connection that has always been there, just outside the realm of my consciousness and yet was always there. Like a pulse that cannot be subdued.

After my father’s death, I lived in a rough low-income neighbourhood with my mother. As time went by, she grew increasingly abusive and I had no choice but to run away. Between the ages of 14-16 I lived in several Children’s Aid homes. In time, I ran away from an abusive foster home and returned to my mother’s apartment. At age 16 I was friendless and desperate. Eventually I became recruited by a neo-Nazi group, the Heritage Front. They became the family I felt I’d never had, and looked after me at a time when my only choice was to live on the streets. They also put me in touch with an internationally-renowned Holocaust revisionist and Hitler sympathizer, Ernst Zundel. Zundel gave me a job working in his basement printing press, fed me and looked out for me.

By the time I turned 18 I knew that what the group was doing was wrong. I wanted out of the organization but they were possessive of me and I didn’t know of a way out. I attempted suicide and eventually I turned to an anti-racist activist, who put me in touch with the director of a think-tank on extremist right-wingers. He, in turn, asked me to spy on the Heritage Front and Ernst Zundel and collect information that could be turned over to the police.

defection 1994-2Hategan articleMetro Toronto

For half a year I gathered as much information on illegal activities, weapons and dangerous persons, as well as stole Ernst Zundel’s national and international mailing list, which consisted of people all over North and South America and Europe who had sent in money to fund Zundel’s Holocaust revisionist projects. In 1994 I testified in court and sent 3 Heritage Front leaders to prison, effectively dealing a serious blow toward dismantling the group.

I was only 19 years old. I lived in hiding and attended university in Ottawa under an assumed name. Upon graduating Magna cum Laude with a Criminology and Psychology double-major, I taught ESL in Seoul, South Korea and subsequently travelled throughout Europe the following year.

I spent some time in Krakow and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. Something stirred in me that summer – an inexplicable familiarity, a sense that I was connected to those places in some undefinable way. When I first heard Ladino songs, it was as though I could almost recognize them. The music seemed familiar somehow. Then there were the places in the south of Spain, as well as in Poland and Hungary that I visited – they felt as though I’d been there before. In Debrecen, the city my father was born in, I allowed my feet to take me where they wanted to go, and I ended up on a narrow, cobblestoned street, in front of a half-burned synagogue with smashed-out windows.

It felt like I had been there before. The feeling was strong, palpable, like a childhood memory – a memory that was just outside the realm of my consciousness.

I eventually returned to Canada and tried to lead a normal life. But something always clawed at the back of my consciousness, pushing me toward a Jewish path. I lived along Bathurst street, in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. I began to read books on Judaism and spirituality. Ten years went by since I first thought of undergoing a formal conversion to Judaism, but something always held me back – I first wanted to discover the truth about my father, my family’s past. I had to know our own past in order to go forward.

Years later, during a visit to my paternal grandmother’s village in Transylvania, I tracked down relatives, old family friends and neighbours, and asked questions. At my uncle’s house, among my deceased grandmother’s possessions, I discovered a box of mementos and photographs that I’d never seen before. The box was marked with the Jewish surname “Kohan” – the Hungarian version of Cohen. I finally began to believe that my suspicions had been true, and that my father had actually been Jewish.

Back in Canada, I ordered a DNA kit from 23andme, sent in my saliva sample and waited for a month to receive my results. When they came in, it was a surreal experience – one of the most significant days of my life. To realize that after so long, what I had suspected was actually true! I burst into tears of joy, knowing that I was no longer alone – at last I had a past, a history. And well over 20 relatives in the 23andme database with the surname Cohen, some of whom offered their help in piecing together our common ancestry.

23andme EH profile  23andme EH profile2 

Part of my conversion essay:

In my soul, heart and mind, Judaism is more than a religion for me. It’s a shared history, a genetic memory, a family and a connection that has always been just outside the realm of my consciousness, yet was always there. The more I learned about Judaism through my study, the more I felt my bond to the past grow stronger.

My father’s denial of his religion and heritage was like an invisible wall that kept me from my past. But with each day and each hour, the wall becomes increasingly transparent. The bricks fall apart and I begin to see a glimpse of something beautiful and mystical on the other side. The shadows of those great-grandparents and the whispers of their lives comes through to me, through me, and out into my very own existence.

I have had thousands of Jewish ancestors from Poland, Russia, Galicia, Ukraine and Romania, whose truth, lives and stories have been wiped off in only two generations. One hundred years. That is all it took to wipe out my family’s connection to their own lineage and heritage.

I look at the world and wonder how many others walk around unaware that the blood of Sephardic conversos or Ashkenazim forced to hide their religion runs through their veins.

I aim to reclaim that heritage.

“Please read your Declaration of Faith for us, Elisa.”

I stood up and read the piece of paper which I had practically memorized over the past year.

declaration of faith Iosif and Elisa Anna-Philip

Left: my declaration of faith. Centre: my favourite photo of me & my father.  Right: grandmother Ana with her husband.

Afterwards, they asked me to sign it and I did so, then handed it back to them. I answered several questions related to holidays and ritual, and recited a couple of prayers. Then one of the rabbis asked me more about my father’s family. “Did you know the biggest group of immigrants to Israel after the war were from Romania?”

I hadn’t known this, and he smiled at me warmly and told me a story about his friends who had come from the same part of Transylvania as my father. Then our conversation touched on the Holocaust, and I mentioned the profound experience I’d had in my twenties when I visited Europe’s biggest concentration camp, the largest mass-murder site in the world.

Rabbi Fertig sat up. “You were at Auschwitz?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What was it like?”

I gazed into the distance, recalling the summer of 2001 when I had backpacked across Europe, and how my journey to find my roots had led me to Auschwitz. “I went in the summer, when the grass was this high.” I said, lifting my hand to indicate waist-height. “It was a sunny day. A very beautiful day. The sun was high up in the sky, and there was such a vivid a juxtaposition of life and death. The grass was buzzing with crickets and frogs, filled with life….right up among those terrible barracks at Birkenau. I walked inside the barracks and felt that emptiness….the void, the echoes of the lives that had been lost there.”

Rabbi Levine stared at me for a long time. “So many millions perished in the Holocaust – and now you are returning to the fold.”

“I am but one drop,” I said quietly, my eyes filling with tears.

We all fell silent. After some time, Rabbi Brief asked me, “Have you chosen a Hebrew name?”

There was never any doubt in my mind what my Hebrew name would be – Elisheva, of course. The Hebrew version of my own given name. Better yet, it somehow ‘fit’ me. It felt more right than anything else.

“Elisheva Sarah.”

Rabbi Levine cleared his throat. “I am obliged to inform you that although a Conservative Beit Din is accepted by all conservative and affiliated denominations, some Orthodox will still refuse to see you as Jewish.”

I nodded. “Yes, I know this.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

I hesitated. “Do you think….will I be accepted by a Reform synagogue?”

The rabbis looked at each other in amusement. “They’re going to love you,” the oldest of the rabbis answered. “Reform already recognizes you as a Jew because you have a Jewish father – so just based on the fact that you still went through this when you didn’t have to.”

Rabbi Levine peered into my eyes. “I read your conversion essay and I have to say it really moved me. You’re a very good writer. A very gifted writer.”

Something stirred inside me. Trying to fight back the knot in my throat, I said, “I’m working on a book to preserve the memory of those in my father’s village who have been forgotten. I want to do this for them – I’m the only one left who still carries their stories. Everyone else has passed.”

He nodded, and his eyes communicated such a deep empathy, such a sense of recognition and understanding, that I had to bite my lip to keep from tearing up. My eyes swept the room – the other rabbis were nodding, acknowledging me. I felt, in that moment, that they were seeing the real me – that part of my core I had kept hidden for so long. The vulnerability. The sadness and the truth of what I’d always known to be true. The real core of me.

Rabbi Levine pushed back from the table. “I am ready,” he said. He looked to the others: “I know it’s cutting this short, but I’m satisfied with this. I’m ready to make this woman Jewish.”

my Mikvah my mikvah2

We walked out of the synagogue and around to the side of the building, where another door stood open. A tall, thin woman waited for us there, her hair covered under a beret-type hat. She beckoned us in and we shook hands. “Welcome Elisheva,” she said, smiling at me. “You can leave your coat and stuff here. I warmed up the water really well for you, and have everything set up for you. Come and let me show you around.”

I smiled back at her, and Carol’s eyes glided to my hair. “You have long, gorgeous hair,” she said with a smile, and I instantly read between the lines. The hair was going to be a problem. Making sure there were no tangles was going to be challenging enough. But then she added, “I’m concerned that it might float up when you submerge. Every strand has to go underwater.”

The rabbis sat down on a small bench in the narrow corridor that led to several rooms, including the one where Carol was leading me. It turned out to be a small but perfectly clean bathroom with a shower stall and all the toiletries one could imagine.

She closed the door behind us and pointed out everything, careful to inspect that I wasn’t wearing any nail polish. I started to remove my earring studs and put them in my backpack while she explained what I already knew – I was to scrub off everything once again, wash my hair thoroughly and brush it so there were no tangles anywhere. Then, when I was ready, to walk through another door wearing little bootsies to keep from slipping and only the towel.

“The Mikvah is completely private,” she assured me. “The rabbis will only listen to the submersion and I will be the only one in the room with you. They will hear you say the prayer, but they cannot see you. I am here to make sure your privacy is respected and I myself will not look at you – when you descend into the Mikvah I will hold up the towel and respect your privacy. You can rest assured that your privacy and modesty will be respected at all times. So take as long as you need to get ready, and I will be on the other side of that door.”

After she left, I tried to keep myself from shaking. To think that I was so close to the Mikvah I’d read so much about, so close to the completion of a journey that had taken me years to achieve!

The bathroom was spartan and super-clean. A shelving unit ran beside the sink, and everything I could possibly have forgotten was there: nail polish remover, cotton balls, extra soap, toothpaste, shampoo, dental floss, even a small vial of Air d’Temps perfume that I planned to spritz on after the ceremony was complete (but forgot to, in the ensuing excitement). As Carol had promised, two different kinds of combs lay ready to tackle my difficult hair. I chose the one with the wider-spaced teeth and bravely stepped into the stone shower stall.

The shower itself was as I’d expected, with the worst part being – of course – running the brush through my well-shampooed (but not conditioned) curls. Needless to say, when it was all said and done I lost more than my usual amount of stray hairs, possibly because I was so excited, nervous and emotional about the ritual to follow that I brushed a bit too impatiently and managed to snap off some more split ends.

The last thing to go were my contact lenses. The Mikvah rules were that nothing could stand in the way of the water immersing the body, not even contacts. I placed the case carefully on the sink ledge and wrapped the fresh white towel around my body.

Then I reached for the door handle and stepped into the other room.

The room was low-lit, with several pot lights illuminating only the water – which was as blue as the sea. The Mikvah was larger than I’d imagined, much larger than a Jacuzzi but not quite the size of a swimming pool.

Am I really here? Is this finally happening? I wondered, gazing in awe at the water that would soon immerse every bit of my being. It’s so beautiful.

I kicked off the bootsies and held still while Carol the Mikvah Lady inspected me in order to pick off any stray hairs that may have fallen down my back. I checked myself also and found an additional long hair that I handed her.

After she discarded the loose hairs, Carol came back and stepped behind me. “You can give me the towel and go in now,” she said, holding the towel I handed her up in front of her – as promised, to protect my modesty. Although I’d wondered what it would feel like being completely naked in front of a stranger, I realized that I didn’t feel embarrassed at all – this felt like such a perfectly natural, even maternal process.

I walked toward the Mikvah and began to descend the seven steps that led down to the main pool. I held the railing and stepped down the seven steps–each one representing a day in the Creation story. Then an unexpected challenge arose: by the fourth step I could already tell that the water was too deep. As in, over my head. I’m not a swimmer by any stretch, and have never managed to hold my own in the deep-end of a swimming pool. I would never be able to touch the bottom.

Over the past year I’d researched anything I could find about other people’s accounts of their conversion ceremonies, but had never read about the situation that confronted me now – being only 5’2” tall, by the time I reached the lowest step I was already immersed up to my chin.

I gazed into the shimmering depths of the main pool and realized, not without a fair amount of trepidation, that I would never be able to stand upright in it. The water was high enough to go over my head. Although I love splashing around in water, I’m not a swimmer and have never managed to tread water in the deep end of a swimming pool.

An irrational fear seized hold of my mind. Has anybody ever drowned in a Mikvah? I wondered, cringing inwardly at the ridiculousness of the question. Worst case scenario, Carol the Mikvah Lady was here, along with three rabbis on the other side of the wall partition. Surely somebody would pull me out if I didn’t resurface after a while, right?

My desire to become a Jew was now confronted head-on by my fear of drowning. The combination didn’t make for a particularly mystical experience. Did I want to convert badly enough to risk drowning? Would you rather live as a Christian or risk drowning to become a Jew?

The answer came hard and fast: YES. Yes, I wanted it that badly. Badly enough to jump off into the deep end, where the water towered above my head – not knowing if I would bob back up or sink right to the bottom.

Over the months that led up to this ceremony, I’d imagined this day to be a peaceful, holy, life-changing process. In a way, this was still partly true – with that tranquil blue water so warm and lovely, lapping at my skin, an aura of serenity had surrounded me. But suddenly another part of me was seized with fear. As anxiety mounted in my chest, I realized that in order to become a Jew I would have to conquer my terror.

I took a deep breath and tried to balance myself on the lowest step, which was really hard because the salt water makes you buoy about, making it impossible to keep your feet firmly planted onto the tiled ground.

“Are you ready?” Carol’s voice resounded behind me. “Take your time. When you’re ready, I want you to take a deep breath and jump away from the step. When you’re fully immersed under the water, lift your legs up so that you don’t touch the bottom to make sure that for an instant, you’re floating free.”

I sucked in a deep breath, steadied myself….and then stepped off the ledge. Water flooded into my eyes, mouth, over my head, and suddenly I was up again, sputtering and flailing toward the metal rail in the corner. I seized hold of it and clambered up onto the last ledge again.

Carol looked at my ungainly flop and smiled sympathetically. “We’ll have to do that one over again. Your hair didn’t go all the way under.”

Strands of my hair had floated to the surface since I hadn’t sank deep enough. “Does this happen a lot?” I asked her.

She nodded. “You’re very buoyant – we all are – so what you’ll need to do is really let go and try to jump up a little when you step away from the stairs. The force of you jumping up will ensure you submerge all the way down.”

I took another deep, shuddering breath, and felt determination flow through my entire body. I hadn’t come this far to allow fear to stop me now. I thought about my father, my grandmother, about our family friend Steve Bendersky and the relatives he’d lost in the war, about the numbers tattooed on his arm, about the heritage that had been denied me. I thought about the people who had been killed over the centuries for being a Jew, about all who had walked down this path before me as converts and embraced their Jewish neshama.

I had come this far. I was ready.

It still felt scary, taking that plunge – but I no longer cared about drowning. I wanted to leap as far into that water as I could, to take it all into my heart, to let it remind me of my strength and ability to survive anything.

I was enveloped in a cocoon of blueness and warmth – the perfect heat of a womb made of nature’s own waters that seemed to have always existed in and around me. I opened my eyes underneath the water which coated every pore of my being and thought, This is the day I was born. Back then, and then again today.

No sooner did that realization hit than a force propelled me upwards – the force of my own buoyancy. I hadn’t drowned after all. In fact, I felt stronger than ever.

Carol’s voice echoed throughout the small room: “Kasher!”

I repositioned myself on the last step, filled my lungs with air, and leapt up again. I sank down into the depths of the Mikvah and didn’t fight it this time – I gave myself to it in body and soul.

When I bobbed back up, Carol called out “Kasher” for the second time.

I half-swam back toward the steps, found my balance again and turned to face the blueness. This would be my third jump. When I came back up again, I would be a Jew.

“Take your time,” Carol said softly. “If you want to take a moment to say a silent prayer – just for yourself.”

I closed my eyes and felt tears brimming behind my eyelashes. I mouthed the words of the Shema silently, for everyone before me, and then again for myself – that I be worthy of that painful, beautiful legacy and that I might contribute toward making the world a better place.

And then I took the biggest leap of my life into the waters that had always waited there for me. I lifted my knees up to my chest and spread my arms out to my sides, and the Mikvah embraced me.

And as I came up to the surface as a Jew, Carol called out for the third time, “Kasher.”

My voice shook as I spoke the words of the final prayer, Shehecheyanu, a prayer uttered by Jews for two thousand years: “Barukh Ata Adonai, Elohenu Melekh Haolam, Shehecheyanu, Vekiyimanu, Vehigiyanu, Lazman Hazeh.”

As soon as I said the last word, “hazeh”, voices all around called out “Mazel Tov!” I heard the rabbis break out into applause from the other side of the partition carved in the wall, congratulating me.

I turned around and emerged out of the water slowly, its warmth following me. Carol was beaming at me, holding out the towel. “Mazel Tov, Elisheva.”

I pitter-pattered back to the bathroom where I was shaking as I toweled off, got dressed as quickly as I could, and put in my contact lenses once again. I was too impatient to take the time needed to blow dry my long hair, and as a result I was still dripping water when I re-emerged into the little room where everyone was waiting for me.

The rabbis surrounded me and put their hands on my shoulders, breaking into song. As they sang, said their blessings and gave me all the official conversion paperwork, tears started to course down my face. They sang the old traditional Siman Tov/Shalom Aleichem song and I just folded my arms across my chest and bit my lip to unsuccessfully stop myself from crying. The oldest rabbi, probably close to eighty, wrapped his arm around my shoulders in a way a father might comfort a daughter and as he held me while I cried, I felt the warmth of his joy – I had come home.

Elisa and rabbis my menorah

Above: me with rabbis after the ceremony.  Right: a beautiful antique menorah – my conversion gift

In April 2015, a couple of years after my conversion to Judaism, I left for Romania in order to research my newest book, Remember Your Name. Because Bucharest is only a two-hour flight from Tel Aviv, I decided to make my first journey to Israel. I also fulfilled a secret wish I’d carried since my conversion – to go to the Western Wall and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for my father.

IMG_9298 Jerusalem arches IMG_9131

It took me a lifetime to realize that my parents had been a by-product of their time – they had suffered so immensely that they had absorbed their oppression and passed it onto others. They made others suffer because that was the only way they could relate, after the pain they had endured. They hurt me because they themselves had been hurt. And then I too, as a child of their hatred, had tried my best to keep that light of hate alive – because I’d never known another way. So many scarred, wounded people have created the world we live in today, where suffering and oppression breeds brutality.

When I was in Israel, a new understanding flooded me – that my story doesn’t end with dissecting my own family’s hatred and buried identity. It doesn’t end with me converting to Judaism. I’m also digging back further into the history of hidden Jews and forced converts in Europe, and the internalization of hatred, the transformation of victim into oppressor. We see this everywhere today – oppressed becomes oppressor, persecuted people turn the brutalization they suffered into outward brutality – from the peasant workers’ 20th century revolutions that turned into communist dictatorships, to the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East.

It’s all a vicious cycle. A cycle where hatred and religion-fueled intolerance supresses the spark of divine essence, the oneness, that connects all beings. A cycle of hate and judgemental intolerance so brutal that it’s pushed me toward feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of suicide for most of my adult life. Until I realized that the future of humankind doesn’t rest with governments and profit-driven policies but within us – that love is stronger than hate. Unity is stronger than division. Kindness reveals much more courage than brutality. That is where everyone’s G-d resides. In deeds of loving kindness. In recognizing our mistakes and showing forgiveness to those who harmed us. And in understanding that our differences are nothing in comparison to the beautiful light that shines within us all.

Elisa TelAviv sunset yad vashem vista

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Posted in anti-semitism, family, hate, identity, jewish, life, news, religion, romania, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Brutal Truth about Being a Writer

Posted by E on May 10, 2015

typewriter

I made the decision to become a professional writer in my third year of university, after taking a year-long Creative Writing course that would change my life. I’ve always wanted to write, that desire being kindled from the moment I heard my first fairytale, from those first, precious kindergarten days when I discovered that I, too, could follow along the letters that formed the sentences which intertwined to become the first stories I ever read. It was an implicit, unspoken spark, a recognition inside me that whispered the promise that one day, I too would give life to letters, words and sentences to delight other children like me.

I miss those days of wonder, the spark of delight I would feel after finishing a rhyming poem for composition class. When that poem was so liked by my teacher that she’d ask me to go to the front of the classroom and read it to the other kids. The sound of their hands clapping, just for me – it was one of those very few, precious moments of a childhood that was filled with loneliness, despair and isolation – in that sense, mirroring the miserable childhoods my parents had and recreated within me.

But the magic, like desktop varnish, like the fresh-print smell of a brand-new book, has long worn off the process. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sit here and write about everything that has made me jaded about the writing profession – that’s to be found in my 2012 book Alice in Writerland. But the point is, over the last decade and a half since I’ve been trying my best to make a living as a writer, I’ve encountered scores of aspiring, budding, hopeful writers whose dreams and ambitions are often way ahead of their actual daily word counts.

Again, this isn’t what this blog is really about – everyone eventually realizes, if they’re in this profession long enough, that in general (and with the exception of performance arts, aka poetry slams) writing is not a social endeavour. Not that it’s stopped countless people from starting writing collectives, coffee bar circles and the like – I’ve been guilty of that myself. I don’t know how many circles I’ve either started or been part of, and years ago I even established a Facebook writers group that today numbers in the hundreds. Of course, everybody has their own unique process. I’ve had extroverted friends swear by wine bars and Starbucks shops as being central to kick-starting their creative juices. I’ve even written a piece or two in coffee lounges. But ultimately, if you really intend to be a writer of book-length works, you need to be able to lock yourself into a room and just WRITE.

Nevertheless, this also isn’t what this blog post is actually about. But I’m getting to it.

So here comes the kick, the part you don’t hear in the creative writing MFA programs of tomorrow, where everybody is a young Rimbaud or Hemingway, where practically everyone goes through a Plath or Bukowski phase (or like me, both): there is a lot of ugliness out there. A LOT. Especially now, in the age of social media, when people who have never accomplished anything and likely harbour a lot of internalized anger have begun to use the internet as a tool for psychological projection.

meanness  aggression stock

I’m not a stranger to personal attacks – over twenty years ago I gathered information on dangerous extremists, testified against their leaders and put them in jail, and helped to disband the most dangerous, out-of-control CSIS operation ever carried out by Canadian Intelligence. I had to live in hiding after my life was threatened numerous times. At eighteen, I was only a teenager. Just think about what you were doing when you were sixteen. Or eighteen. Now picture being truly, completely, utterly alone, with nobody to give a shit about whether you die or not.

Last March I finally conquered the demons that had given me PTSD into my early twenties and wrote a memoir, Race Traitor. I sold about a thousand copies, got some national attention and made some good contacts in the media industry and the activist community. But then came the hate mail – something that, if you are really serious about being a writer, you’ll have to wrap your brain around.

Anytime you have success – no matter how small, even if success is defined simply by the publication of a book – you’re going to get what has been colloquially termed as “haters.” The subject matter of your book is inconsequential. Honestly, it doesn’t make a difference. If you write romance, someone is going to tell you that you suck. If you write adventure, you’re bound to hear the plot lacks suspense.

God forbid you actually make it onto a bestseller list – some of my favourite writers ever, like Carlos Ruiz Zafon or Jeanette Winterson, have literally hundreds of brutal one-star reviews. And in recent days, Harry Potter author JK Rowling has been viciously targeted for nasty social media attacks. Luckily for her, she has a fan base of 4 million people. But what do you do if you don’t already have an established fan base and are on the receiving end of brutal comments?

And when I say brutal, I mean it. Brutality is commensurate to your level of success. I’m not even a best-selling author, not by a long shot. Most people haven’t a clue who I am. But in my case, the more interviews I did and the more copies of my book I sold, the worse the hate-mail.

But if you should wish to write non-fiction, it can get worse. If you write investigative pieces, or something that triggers the attention of far right nutcases or religious extremists, you’re in for a treat. Imagine being discussed on Stormfront, the world’s largest and most hateful white supremacist website, one whose regulars included Anders Breivik (the Norwegian Utoya Island shooter), the Kansas City synagogue shooters or even Canadian psychopath Luka Magnotta. Imagine being called terrible names on white supremacist sites that are filled with lunatics who treasure their weapon troves.

Last month, after gaining some publicity for my book crowdfunding campaign, I received a typical hate letter through my website web-form from Aryan Nations in Idaho. They identified themselves as such, and after checking their IP on my Statcounter app I was able to confirm that indeed, the email did come from Hayden Lake, Idaho.

This is what it said (the spelling errors are intact):

“Just like a JEW .. Get stupid ass goyim to pay for travel/lodging & expenses for you to write a book about your new found JEW-ism… Fantastic. I certainly don’t consider you white.

We here in Northern Idaho ( home of CJCC/AN ) have a one second rule – That is if within a second we suspect your not white. Your not white. PERIOD.  Oh by the way – how can you be a race traitor – being you were a mongrel Jew while with HF? Seems like a more correct book title would be \” Confused Jew \”.. But alas – glad your gone – we really never needed you anyways.”

This past week the Toronto Star published a major feature article on my new work-in-progress book and my journey of self-discovery. Of course, it was bound to get some feathers ruffled, and it did.

On Toronto Star’s own Facebook page, hateful people instantly started spewing nonsense about Muslims being the real dangerous criminals (instead of the extreme right, presumably), calling me misogynistic terms, and even making fun of my Romanian surname of Hategan. “She’s all about Hate-,” is something I’ve heard for decades. An idiotic ad hominem attack that has nothing to do with political commentary and everything to do with humiliation. Hategan is a traditional Romanian name that comes from a Transylvanian community known as Hateg. To call me names because of it is tantamount to me pointing at Margaret Atwood and giggling, “Look, she’s got –WOOD in her name.”

I’ve been called a mongrel and a non-human on various sites because I have a Jewish background. On the Toronto Star Facebook page, someone even called me a “gross” “Roma gypsy.”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” goes the old adage, but it is wrong. Bruises will heal, bones will mend up, by the meanness, the ugliness contained in hurtful words creates an incision into your heart and self-esteem that is much harder to repair.

lonely-alone-girl-stock

So, when you think about all the successful ingredients you need in order to be a writer – talent, creativity, inspiration, dedication, persistence – add THICK SKIN to your repertoire. The way I see it, the ability to weather the storms of criticism, rejection and anonymous hate is the most necessary ingredient you’ll need to possess if you’re going to survive as an author. Not just because collecting a lot of rejection letters from publishers, magazines and agents is par for the course. Because you know what? Nobody is going to fight for you.

Nobody is going to help you. Unless you’re extremely lucky and have a support base in place, hardly anybody is going to give a shit. And secretly, many people will blame you – “Well, if you didn’t put yourself and your story out there….”

These days, the polite thing is to look away, and only give Likes to photos of kittens or cute babies. When someone sees something ugly happening to you, they are going to look away. They’re going to pretend they didn’t notice that you’re hurt or upset or wounded – because dealing with any emotion other than positivity is a horror to be avoided at all cost by the Cult of Positive Thinking that has become the social norm in North America. Indifference always comes above empathy.

So in the end, the truth about being a writer is that it’s not the glamorous profession it’s been idealized to be. In fact, in the digital age you’re equally as likely to be attacked, bullied and harassed for your work as you are to be valued and complimented. You must have an unshakeable faith in yourself, in your ability and your dream – and don’t let anybody else speak for you.

Only YOU – within your heart and soul – know what you are truly capable of.

Not them.

Just YOU.

If Richard III were a writer today I’m certain that he’d shout, “My kingdom for a Kind Word.”

random-acts-of-kindness

Posted in abuse, politics, public shaming, racism, shaming, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

An Epitaph for Rodney Bobiwash

Posted by E on April 2, 2015

20th_group11

Last week I had lunch with an old-time activist who had recently read my book, Race Traitor. He said, “I noticed one of the people you dedicated the book to was Rodney Bobiwash. I didn’t even realize he’d passed away so long ago until I tried to look him up on the internet.”

That led to us talking about activists, and activism as a way of life. I told him of my recent encounters with a younger activist group in Toronto whose leaders seemed to have no respect for, or particular interest in learning about, the history of this city, this province and this country. I left the conversation nostalgic about the people I knew back in the 1990s – community role models, people who put their lives and integrity on the line to make a real difference.

Later in the week, as I was digging into my files in preparation for my upcoming journey back to Eastern Europe (where I hope to finish my newest manuscript), I discovered a journal entry I made back in January 2002, on the day of Rodney Bobiwash’s funeral. As I read it, tears started rolling down my face.

I want to share that journal entry now, if only as a way to continue his memory and tell others about him and the profound influence he had on me. Although he doesn’t even have a wiki page and I can’t find a single photograph of him on the internet (the low-resolution group shot above, where he is seated second from the left, is the only I could find), he had more integrity in his little finger than many established community activists earn in a lifetime. He was only 43 when he passed away after a heart attack and I have no doubt that, were he still here today, he would be a powerful force of reckoning against Harper’s draconian new legislation, as well as confronting the ugly reality of Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

At the time I heard of his passing, I had just returned from teaching English in South Korea – so that, even though I didn’t have a chance to speak with Rodney in close to a decade, I had the privilege to visit him as he lay in wait at the Native Canadian Centre on Spadina Road where he had been executive director, and celebrate the life of a brave, unwavering individual who was mourned by indigenous activists all around the world. A First Nations man who had been born with the Anishnabek name Wacoquaakmik – Breath of the Land.

unitybutton idle no more

Thank you Rodney. You helped change my life. I will never forget your kindness.” – this is what I wrote this afternoon in your memorial book while people streamed in to pay their respects. So many people, so many tears.

How frail and unlike yourself you seemed in that blue coffin. I kept wishing you would rise and join the rest of us in celebrating your bravery, the inspirational life of a man whose spirit will always glow in our hearts. On the fourth day of your journey into the Spirit world, I am but one of the many who have become your candles.

I regret that I was so traumatized by what had happened to me in Toronto, by the nightmares and the PTSD that haunted my daily existence, that I sought escape as far away as I could run and hid from everyone – including those who helped to save my life. I regret that I hadn’t spoken with you in the last eight years. I’d like to believe that I would have made you proud – I’ve come so far from the wounded, angry kid you first laid eyes on, to the university graduate, writer and artist I’ve become. Who I am now is a testament to the profound influence of rare, beautiful souls like you who taught me by example about generosity, kindness and humanity.

I will never cease to be in awe of all that you accomplished in your 43 years – from the poverty of your childhood to Oxford University, to becoming a prominent, professor, leader and activist, to joining forces with the Chiapas in Mexico, walking hand in hand with the indigenous in Colombia….the superhuman effort you put into standing up to hatred (even as your life was threatened repeatedly), to all your poignant presentations at human rights conferences around the world, your last one in Brazil only a month ago.

Rodney, what an amazing man you are and you were, and what an exemplary, courageous path you sowed for us to follow! Thank you for having graced this world with your breath, your touch, and your smile. There are no words to express my gratitude for having known you. The way you bowled me over with forgiveness and kindness – how you brought me, an angry kid who had once hated you, into your home and your life.

I will never forget how you fed and sheltered me in your apartment whenever I passed through Ottawa in my year and a half of hiding throughout Canada. How you took cash out of your own pocket and covered part of my costs during that time of hardship. How you arranged for brave Native Canadian warriors to provide me with protection before and during the length of my testimony against the hateful white supremacists whose group put both of us on their hit lists, especially you, creator of Klanbusters.

I will never forget how you helped protect me after I was denied protection by Canada’s government at the instruction of CSIS, whose agents sponsored homegrown terrorism and hate in our country for close to five years.

Until we stopped them.

I hope that your spirit will always walk with me whenever I feel alone, and that your strength and courage will continue to shine inspiration into my life.

Posted in activism, canada, personal, politics, racism, rodney bobiwash, thoughts, toronto | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is traditional publishing the new vanity publishing?

Posted by E on August 27, 2012

Normally I don’t tend to highlight articles, even some of the juicy controversy surrounding Amazon vs the Apple, Big Six et al collusion. But this is far too interesting not to share with you folks.

This article written by Bernard Starr, professor at CUNY, came out this past week in The Huffington Post, and as I read it my neck started cramping from all the nodding in agreement that it provoked. Yes, I too have had friends who have shelved viable manuscripts because agents or publishers refused to look at them, instead of trying to make a commercial profit from something that had taken them lots of sweat, time (in some cases, years) and grief to write. Even when confronted with the reality of being able to both monetize your career AND reach a willing audience, many of my writer friends have decided to “hold out” for a publisher – and admitted that they just wanted to be published by a trad press, period – even if their print run was in the hundreds and they never saw a dime.

This is absurd.

It’s time to peel back the blindfold and look reality in the eye. No matter which side of the publishing precipice you happen to fall on, this article will give you a lot of food for thought. Yes, it’s provocative and may rub some readers the wrong way, but if it wasn’t controversial would you be reading it? And just in case the Huffington Post page disappears or gets archived, as it so oftens in online journalism, I’m going to reproduce it here.

The old vanity publishing offered authors who could not attract the interest of a traditional publisher an opportunity to get their  books published. The process was costly and often required that the author purchase large quantities of books. According to legend, garages throughout America are warehousing these dust-gathering volumes. Some so-called vanity books were written by competent writers who just couldn’t find a way into the mainstream; others were exercises in ego building — the books were sold or given away free to family members, friends and colleagues. These authors were willing to pay the price to boast, “I’m a published author.”

Commentators on the current upheaval in publishing have observed that many authors desperately seek a traditional  publisher when self-publishing would serve them far better. Traditional publishing has thus become, in many instances, the vanity choice. Does it make sense?

The new world of self-publishing has little in common with the old vanity publishing, but  for many writers it still bears the taint of vanity.  Self-publishing has not only democratized publishing, it has opened up the opportunity for authors to publish at low or no cost, own all the rights, control the pricing and timetable for publishing, and get their books listed for sale and distribution on major outlets and platforms — e.g. Amazon, kindle,  nook, other e-readers, Google and more. Royalties for self-published books can range from thirty to eighty percent (depending on ancillary services that are selected) compared to the 71/2 to 15 percent in traditional publishing. And if you are adept at Internet marketing, you can reach large targeted audiences for your books.

Fact is that authors no longer need a publisher. And more and more writers  are awakening to the realization that if  you are not a high-profile author who can command large sales, a traditional publisher will do little for you beyond  editing and printing your book. While it’s true that they will also distribute it to the waning number of brick-and-mortar bookstores — self-published books are not usually available in bookstores — the number that actually land on the shelves is surprisingly small. And the argument that self-published books are not widely reviewed in mainstream publications loses steam when you realize that only a tiny percent of traditionally published books are reviewed at all. Add to that the growing number of  prestigious venues that now review self-published books.  Publishers Weekly devotes a quarterly supplement to reviews of self-published books and  Kirkus  Reviews, as well, offers self- published authors the opportunity to have their books independently reviewed.  Then there are companies springing up like Blue Inc., where self-published authors can pay a small fee for unbiased reviews  that are posted on the  web.

Can you count on  a traditional publisher to substantially market your book? A prominent literary agent recently told me that unless an author receives a hefty advance of  $100,000 or more most publishers will do virtually no promotion, leaving it to authors to create and exploit their own platforms via social media and networking connections, workshops and webcasts.  So when you go the traditional-publishing route, you may well find yourself self-publishing without the benefits of self-publishing.

Yet many writers who would do just fine with self-publishing — and build a following — still refuse that choice; they continue to pursue a” real publisher.”  My friend Mike (not his real name — I don’t want to embarrass him) has been sitting on a completed  non-fiction manuscript for the last three years while going through several agents and running the manuscript past numerous editors.  They all agreed that he’s an outstanding writer, but publishers rejected his manuscript because he doesn’t have a platform or relevant credentials for his current book. Mike says he would be happy to publish with any traditional publisher, even if this meant  a small print run, no publicity and high pricing. The fact that his sales are likely to be low — thus creating a bad “track record” when he goes to publish another book — hasn’t deterred him from the wish to have a “name” publisher’s imprint.

I finally realized that Mike was representative of the new quest for vanity publishing. These writers  are willing to forego the  benefits of self-publishing for the unshakable belief in the “prestige” of  signing on with a “real publisher.”

If Mike would shed his prejudice, he couldn’t help but notice that an increasing number of successful traditionally published authors are choosing to self-publish. Barry Eisler’s rejection of a $500,000  advance to self-publish has encouraged other writers to take a fresh look at self-publishing. Amanda Hocking’s phenomenal success with self- publishing has had  a similar effect.

And Mike should listen to Theresa Ragan’s story.  For nineteen years she was mostly a stay-at-home mom raising four children — all the while penning romance novels.  But she got nowhere with a few agents and was turned down over a hundred times by publishers. Although she knew about self-publishing she dismissed it as a vanity club. In 2010, while surfing the web for a  job to help pay the bills, she stumbled on an article by a successful self-published author which prompted her to give it a shot (“what do I have to lose?”).  She hooked up with CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of  Amazon.com and self -published her first book in March 2011 in both paperback and e-book formats. Within the first two months she was stunned by the sale of over two thousand  copies — and the sales continued to rise. To date, she has self-published four romance and two thriller novels with sales exceeding three hundred and fifty thousand copies. Theresa expects to cross the million dollar mark in royalties by March 2013. And the good news doesn’t stop there. Several top-line publishers are pursuing her.Thomas and Mercer, Amazon’s “traditional”  mystery and thriller line, will now republish her two thrillers. In my interview with Theresa Ragan on August 21, 2012, she said that prior to venturing into self-publishing, “I would have gratefully signed with any traditional publisher with no advance and a six percent royalty.” Lucky for Theresa that all the publishers passed on her.

A. J.  McDonald, communications manager at Lulu, another leading self-publishing company, related similar success stories. Lulu has also attracted five formerly traditionally published bestselling authors who are now self-publishing and still making the best seller lists — with greater royalties and  total control of all the rights.

Will the bulk of self-published authors match Theresa Ragan’s spectacular success?  Of course not — and many don’t even have that intention. If you do, you must first write a marketable book, one that will appeal to easily identified readers. In fiction, that often means mystery, suspense, and romance; so-called literary fiction tends to do less well, since the audience is much smaller. In the nonfiction world, books on subjects with a niche market — cooking, nature, hobbies, music, spirituality and travel, to name just a few — fare best.  But regardless of your topic or the size of your potential readership, the new world of publishing offers an unprecedented and unlimited opportunity to forge your own destiny.

First- time authors and those struggling to find a publisher should seriously consider self-publishing. Keep in mind that self-publishing does not close the door on traditional publishing. Agents and publishers  are cherry- picking successful self-published books for traditional publishing.  And when they do they will roll out the red carpet, offer an advance and a marketing plan — a different experience than a hundred rejections.

Think about how much you are willing to sacrifice for a “real publisher.” Is the  “prestige” of a traditional publisher’s imprint mostly illusory in the context of the new world of publishing? Ask what  traditional publishing will do for you in the long run if you don’t get effective distribution and publicity. Which platform is more likely to bring you sizable sales? Which will help you build a large following  for marketing future publications?  These are critical questions that deserve serious attention, especially if you are planning a career in writing.

Posted in press, publishing, revolution, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

My love and hate affair with fencing

Posted by E on August 13, 2012

Fencing Olympics controversy

In light of the recent events involving South Korean fencer Lam Shin being robbed of the oportunity to fence the gold-silver medal match at the London 2012 Olympics, my thoughts once again return to fencing. How could I not think of it, seeing this 25-year old girl sobbing on the piste, reliving every moment of hard work and passion that led her to this moment of travesty?

Can the skills of sword-fighting survive as an art and a sport alone, without the bastardization of modern competitions? Can fencing move beyond a long history of dirty backroom deals and bought bouts?

I don’t know, and I’m not optimistic about it. But every time I realize how out of shape I am and how much I’d like to pick up a foil again, the traumas of my varsity years at the University of Ottawa come back to me. The unjust coaches who slept with athletes, the overt favouritism, the occasional fencing scandal that broke out (in magazines such as Sports Illustrated) involving money exchanging hands and bouts being sold off….and yet in my hearts of hearts, I must confess that I miss it – the sensation of that metal against my hand, the sound (the music) when blade meets blade, a cacophony of excitement, a dash of fear, and more than your fair share of exhuberance.

I have to thank fencing for letting me explore my demons. I first picked up a foil the year after I’d come out of hiding after providing information against a group of dangerous white supremacist extremists, information that was used to dismantle their organization. I lived in hiding for over a year all across Canada and by the time I managed to get myself into university as a mature student, I was full of anger and resentment at having discovered that our own government – through its intelligence body, CSIS – had co-founded and bankrolled the very group that had recruited me and other teenagers.

Fencing helped channel my anger into purpose. It drove me to pursue excellence. It empowered me to finally believe, for the first time, that I could be a normal human being. A normal nineteen-year old, whatever “normal” meant. Sure, I didn’t have parents cheering from the sidelines at competitions or coaches who rubbed my shoulders between bouts, but on that piste, across from average college girls, I felt like I was finally on par with the rest of the world – and consequently, that I could have a future once again.

And then I came crashing into the injustices of the sport, the daily murdering of the spirit that favoritism can deliver, and the overarching elitism that lays entrenched in the foundations of the sport.

With no money and no coaches willing to give me free lessons (all the while other girls were being invited to coaches’ houses for lunches, dinners and free training), my fencing days were numbered – sure I could have continued,but the track I was on involved a rapid trajectory to the top, and I refused to accept recreational goals.

And yet I miss it. With age comes perspective, and I realize that competitive fencing made me miserable and angry. Sure I won bouts, but at what cost? These days, with my goals changed and wisdom stemming out of experience, I long for that sensation of being in control of my body, of a blade that is an extention of both my arm and my will. And yet I am afraid that the sport has been utterly corrupted by the competitive slant that has overtaken it over the last hundred years. Whereas once upon a time fencing was practically a requirement, it slowly receded into the arms of the noble classes and the elites who have since turned it into an ugly and corrupt enterprise.

I don’t know what else to say, other than I miss it, I’m afraid of it, I long for it.

I long for the days when fencing will be less about the Olympics and more about the sheer love of bettering oneself. But in the end, unlike soccer or volleyball or swimming, which can be played simply for the fun of it, when it comes to fencing I don’t really think that it is possible.

But oh, how I’d like it to be.

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Posted in fencing, korea, longing, media, news, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Profile of Psychopath vs Sociopath, and how you can tell if you’re in a relationship with one

Posted by E on February 11, 2012

Chances are, we have all encountered psychopaths in our lives, but not thought of them as so simply because when the word psychopath comes up, we think of serial killers and completely dysfunctional social rejects, not successful heads of corporations and even a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Even worse, the definition is often blurred even within the psychiatric community, with the terms sociopath and psychopath being used interchangeably. Even the very definition of psychopathology appears to evolve with each updated rendition of the DSM manual, the de facto bible of the psychiatric industry.

I’m going to take the leap and call it for what it is: for all intents and purposes, psychopaths and sociopaths are the same. They both lack emotional empathy, and are chronic liars and manipulators. They may differ only in the extent of their pathology, and as far as I’m concerned, that difference is not sufficient enough to bother differentiating them.

Now, if you know me you’ll also know that I tend to sit somewhat on the edges of the anti-psychiatry camp, in the sense that I believe too much of natural human behaviour has been syndromized and classified as mental illness when really it was just an excuse for intolerant social mores to enforce discrimination against the marginalized – case in point, homosexuality being diagnosed as an illness until the late 1970s, or the diagnosis for hysteria as a front for patronizing, patriarchal Victorian norms. And of course I am concerned now about young children being classified as ADD and Ritalinized into submission while their small brains are still developing.

However, I also recognize that brains, as transmitters of emotion and interpreters of reality, can be damaged biochemically – as a chronic sufferer of depression, I have personally witnessed how SSRIs have improved the quality of my life, albeit temporarily, hence I am not going to whole-heartedly bash the field of psychiatry. Not in its entirety, at least.

Recent research is also showing increased evidence of biological components in psychopathology – the reduction of mirror neurons in the part of the brain responsible for empathy and emotions. In other words, lack of empathy and “coldness” can be passed on from parent to child.

So how do you know if you have a psychopath (i.e. a sociopath) in your life? How can you tell if your best friend or partner might exhibit signs of this pathology? I’ve assembled a quick checklist to help clarify the profile of this type of person.

Psychopathy is defined by a pattern of interpersonal relationships, emotion, and behavior. The syndrome can be summarized as a cluster of related symptoms:

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions
  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility

Lack of empathy

Psychopaths possess a general lack of empathy. At an extreme they are simply unable to understand the emotional states of other people, except in a purely detached, intellectual sense. Other people are thus little more than objects for their personal gratification. This callousness extends to everybody, family or strangers alike. They neglect other people’s needs and desire and can casually inflict cruelty. A normal, empathic person experiences distress when he observes another human in pain, but the unempathic psychopath feels nothing. Psychopaths are thus capable of stunning acts of cruelty because they are not restrained by any unpleasant reaction to their victims’ suffering.

 PROFILE OF A PSYCHOPATH

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    • They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
    • Grandiose Sense of Self
    • Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”
    • Pathological Lying
      • Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis.
      • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
      • A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
      • Shallow Emotions
      • When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
      • Incapacity for Love
      • Need for Stimulation
      • Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
      • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
        • Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
        • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
          • Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
          • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
            • Not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
            • Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
            • Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
            • Authoritarian
            • Secretive
            • Paranoid
            • Conventional appearance
            • Incapable of real human attachment to another 

Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others.

 For a psychopath, a romantic relationship is just another opportunity to find a trusting partner who will buy into the lies. It’s primarily why a psychopath rarely stays in a relationship for the long term, and often is involved with three or four partners at once. To a psychopath, everything about a relationship is a game.

In the romance department, psychopaths have an ability to gain your affection quickly, disarming you with words, intriguing you with grandiose plans. If they cheat you’ll forgive them, and one day when they’ve gone too far, they’ll leave you with a broken heart. By then they’ll have a new player for their game.

 Where everyone occasionally tells a white lie, a psychopath’s lying is compulsive. Most of us experience some degree of guilt about lying, preventing us from exhibiting such behavior on a regular basis. Psychopaths don’t discriminate who it is they lie to or cheat. There’s no distinction between friend and family.

Anyway, I hope this entry will help provide you with additional clarity in terms of what defines a psychopath. It is estimated that psychopaths make up as high as 4% of the population, which results in millions of people around us who reflect these psychological traits. If you suspect that someone close to you is a psychopath, remember that by the time they reach their teenage years the behaviour has become permanent. You cannot change who they are – you can only protect yourself and walk away from damaging relationships with such emotionally-disturbed, cruel and emotionally-harmful people.

Posted in psychology, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Small Press vs. Self-Publishing in the New Millenium

Posted by E on September 25, 2011

Ten years ago, if I couldn’t sell my book to a Big Six publisher I would gladly have taken the small press route. Heck, even as far back as five years ago I’d gladly have signed on the dotted line, and bragged to all my friends that at least I got a “real” publisher. I’d have used words like “legitimate” and “prestigious”, and snubbed my nose at the yucky self-published vanity “authors” who used to lurk in the gutter alleyways of imprints like Lulu.

But now, with the possibilities offered by Amazon and Smashwords, I wonder if any small publisher can come even close to the advantages offered by self-publishing. Not that self-publishing is a radically new thing. It’s basically what writers used to do for hundreds of years before established imprints took hold in the last century. So I asked this question on Twitter: If you can’t sell your book to Big Six publishers, would you go to a smaller press and get small/no advance OR self-publish?”

One person managed to give a nearly mono-syllabic answer: “small press”, but when I questioned whether splitting my royalties with a press who doesn’t have the marketing dollars to launch me (and thus force me to do my own marketing) is even worth it, she didn’t respond.

The answer seems obvious to me. I don’t begrudge the efforts of small presses and their editorial teams, but the fact of the matter is, most books published by small presses rarely sell more than about a thousand copies. Small presses do not have the budget for premium spots in bookstores, for massive advertising, and do rely heavily on authors marketing their own books. Which is something I already do every single day. And when my earnings are so small to begin with, I’m not sure I really want to split my royalties 85-15 (or worse) with a small press. I’m just being honest here.

Some may argue that small presses add an indispensable value to one’s book by providing expert editorial services and cover design. What I’d suggest is that if a writer so wishes, they can easily hire out editorial, formatting and graphic design services for a flat rate / one-time fee, rather than entering into contract with a publisher who cannot pay you an advance higher than four figures.

I believe we are living in the gold rush age of publishing. For the last couple of years, Big Six traditional publishers have bemoaned what they call a new evolution of the Guttenberg Press, an electronic Golden Age that they hope to survive unscathed. Hatchette and Random House executives have flown (no doubt first class) to meet Steve Jobs in the hope that Apple can somehow squash the Amazon revolution that precipitated a system in which Gatekeepers are being eliminated faster than one can say “Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

 I had a little laugh when I read about it, imagining all those execs in their crisp name-brand suits and ties, oiled briefcases in hand, walking pompously through Apple’s doors, thinking they have anything to leverage their arguments on. It was all the funnier, knowing that in the next five years, those New York penthouse residents will be lining up at their local Unemployment Office. Unless they package themselves out first, as several NY top editors already have been – and starting self-publishing consulting firms. Ah, the irony.

 This new age spells the end of MFA programs ran by greedy writers of the old generation, many of them mediocre writers in their own right, but who lucked out at a time when publishers would print nearly anything legible passed up the chain through nepotism and tapped favors. I mean, who in their right mind (aside from a trust fund baby) would spend $100K to get an MFA when there is no more Random House or Doubleday?

In the future literary universe, you’ll never get a huge advance. You’ll never have publishing execs speculate over your future success over endless luncheons. No, the only thing you will have to produce is a work that is good. Translation = that sells. That audiences, rather than editors and studio execs, will love.

 No more nepotism. No more favours. Of course, if you’re rich and can afford thousands on marketing, you’ll probably still manage to launch yourself out there. But without the gatekeepers, the world becomes a much more even playing field. Any hipster with a stack of flyers and a penchant for podcasting can generate the kind of grassroots buzz that can turn a coffee-stained manuscript into a bestseller.

In the new age we are entering, the ultimate gatekeeper will be the public. Only the AUDIENCE and the power of their mighty dollars will decide if your book has a future. NOT a nail-filing twenty-five year old acquisitions editor who’s rejecting anything on her desk that isn’t vampire teen porn.

 We are in a time of golden rushes. Thousands of new writers enter the self-publishing stampede with tin pan in hand, hoping to make their fortunes. Most will fail, in the same way that most authors in bookstores will fail to earn out their advance and never get anywhere.

But a few WILL succeed. Their ideas and manuscripts WILL strike gold, and when the dust settles they will enjoy the knowledge that they did it all on their own. That their success was entirely in their hands, and the profits they earned are not going toward paying for a Big Six publishers’ Fifth Avenue office suites and expense accounts, but in their own pockets.

We need to embrace this time of revolution, rather than cower and cling to sinking ships that are too bloated to sustain anybody. We need to remember that we at least have our talents and our fresh ideas, but agents and publishers, without their 15-90% cuts, have nothing. And that it was only a matter of time, in an industry that is barely a couple hundred years old, for things to change. For the unwashed masses on the outside of the palace gates to break through, behead anyone in the way and torch the whole bloody place down.

 Allons enfants de la Patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrive!

Posted in art, artist, books, commentary, culture, freedom, innovation, literature, publishing, technology, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The girl in the picture is me

Posted by E on August 19, 2011

The girl in this picture is me. Or rather, it was me. The me I was between age 16-18. The me I lost when I left Toronto, after testifying against a bunch of neo-Nazi leaders who led an organization co-founded by a CSIS agent. Founded, and funded, by our own Canadian government.

Nobody knows what it is like to live in the underground. It’s been romanticized, glamorized, but unless somebody’s actually lived it, nobody can imagine the toll this life can take on you.

Nameless cities, countless names, and through it all, you just ask yourself, Why do I bother? Why not just let them find me – the ones who kept tracking me down, phoning me in the night with threats like “we’re coming to get you,” and “rats end up in the sewers.”

By writing this entry, I’m coming out. Not as gay (that happened a long time ago!), but as a poser. A faker. An impostor.

This is an open letter to all my friends who will be reading this, whether via this blog or through my Facebook account link. Friends I’ve made in different cities and different countries. Friends near and far who have all called me by different names. I’m here to tell you that no, I wasn’t going through eccentric, creative phases whenever I changed cities and switched names.

 There was a reason for it. At least at the time. But as the years went by, I found myself repeating a pattern that was no longer necessary, yet I didn’t know how to stop – lying. Lying had become part of my identity. Lying about my past, my family, my name. All of it as easy as a knee-jerk reflex. Because when you discard identities like you do clothing, sometimes you don’t know how to relate to others without exposing yourself. Even when the threat has long ended.

So for all those who called me Emma in Nova Scotia or Kat in Ottawa or Elisa in the GTA, or the countless little monikers I’ve worn between one place and the next, this entry should provide the answers to some of the questions you’ve always been too polite to ask.

Why am I “coming out” now? Some of you know about my novel Race Traitor, which is loosely based on my own story. You probably didn’t realize there was a connection. What you’ve been told is that it’s a cool little thriller I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. What you don’t know is that it’s full of demons. Not of the supernatural kind, because those can be vanquished easier than those who come to you in the night, through nightmares and flashbacks and terrors that leave you shaking and wondering what the hell’s the point of going forward.  These demons are real people, and they are out there in the world. Seducing and recruiting young, impressionable people, into movements that rob them of their minds and souls. And you owe it to this world, and to all of those lost youth, to understand what happened to me. And what forced me to write this book.

The irony is, this fall my memoir was going to come out with Penguin. I turned them down, because they wanted me to expose myself and offered me nothing to compensate for the threat to my life and that of my loved ones. So instead of telling my secrets, I turned the memoir into a novel, and wrote new secrets for a new character. I’ll never regret this decision. It led me to create an updated story that will reach far more readers than the decade-old story of a girl who disappeared in 1993.

I paid the price for my privacy. I had to publish it myself. Sure, it came close to being bought several times, but ultimately rejected with comments like “this isn’t pertinent to our society anymore. The heyday of right-wing extremists is over.”

Then the shootings and bombing in Norway happened. It was a wake up call for me. Ultimately I had to fire my agent, take my career back into my own hands, and publish the book myself. Incurring, of course, the silent disapproval of nearly all my writer friends who were horrified that I’d subject myself, and my manuscript, to the ghettos of the “Indie” world. Regardless of the quality of my writing, no respectable newspaper or magazine would review my work now. I’d effectively committed career suicide.

So where does this leave me? Yeah, I guess I could go around peddling my wares on writers’ forums now. Bombarding everybody with tweets and emails begging them to buy my book. But I won’t bother to do that. I won’t plead, beg, or steal you attention with requests that you buy it.

All I wanted to do is to tell you the truth about me, and the truth behind my book. If you don’t like the subject matter or don’t want to waste five bucks on something that took me over a year to write and a lifetime to escape, I don’t give a shit. Really.

 I don’t really give a damn about anything anymore.

Posted in books, canada, commentary, crime, freedom, germany, history, letter, life, literature, news, politics, press, publishing, thoughts, toronto, writer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The freedom to dream, the courage to belong

Posted by E on July 13, 2011

 

I guess you can chalk me up as an aspiring, unpublished hack. You know, like 99% of artists out there reading this post 😉 A hack who’s part of this ever-changing world we live in, and who knows more than my fair share about the business. So having said all that, you know what kills me? I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be the next hot new bestselling writer out there. That I’m not going to make much more than minimal wage, and that’s taking into account the artist bursaries I may occasionally win. But the thing that kills me, more than the non-existent fame and fortune all of us writers secretly hope to stumble into, more than anything, is the knowledge that I will never be able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on a shelf.

This image has haunted me since I was a little girl. It has propelled and encouraged me to take my dreams of writing stories and make them unfold from hunches, intermittent thoughts, stray words, into something that takes a life of its own. It’s this dream, this vision of my books on a shelf or on a store display under the Staff Picks section, that hurts the most to let go. To know that everything I have done in my life, all the hard work I’ve put into creating these manuscripts, means nothing at all.

Yes, bad writers self-publish all the time. Breathtakingly mediocre manuscripts get uploaded onto Kindle at every hour of every day. That was my assumption when I first encountered the notion of self-publishing, when I secretly dismissed self-published authors as untalented hacks who couldn’t earn their stripes in the real literary world.

Yes, I was a snob. WAS. But that was before I started downloading self-pubbed books on my Kindle, and realized just how many amazing, incredibly-talented people have been forced by this screwed-up industry to take this route.

There is no karmic justice in this industry. Truth of the matter is this:
1) Bad writers DO get book deals. I’ve met a few in my day, people who either never wrote more than a chapter of a book and still managed to make it onto bestseller lists. Terrible writers also manage – through nepotism, inside connections and affiliations with college writing programs – to land publishing deals for their inferior magnus opuses. I’ve seen it happen. Half of them are out teaching creative writing programs. I can’t name names, but trust me. It happens more often than you think.

2) Good writers DO fall through the cracks. On the brink of extinction, the established literary industry operate like a flock of piranhas – editors concern themselves more with keeping their jobs and minimizing the risk it takes to take on unknown writers. Often they will adopt an unspoken policy of not showing interest in something unless other editors show interest. Simply put = nobody wants to take risks anymore. And nobody wants to edit.

3) Gone are the days when a diamond in the rough could be scooped from the slush pile and whittled into brilliance. Editors, for the most part, are lazy. There – I’ve said it. Not all, because I’d hate to generalize, but a HUGE majority of large publishing house acquiring editors prefer to do just that – acquire. Not edit. Not even bother trying, actually. If the manuscript in their inbox is not pitch-perfect in terms of what they’re looking for, they’d rather reject than invite a revision.

4) Publishing houses are going extinct because of bad financial practices. Case in point:
a. At the last Book Expo America, Random House rented an ENORMOUS booth to show off how much money they had. They spared no expense in putting off the image that they are doing peachy

b. Publishers will spend a million dollars for an advance to buy on a single manuscript (again, see the bidding war piranha frenzy I mentioned earlier), and add another 500K in marketing costs to justify their gamble on one person, while the money could be spent on acquiring ten talented writers (at $100K advance each). You don’t have to have a degree in investing to see how screwed up this is.

c. A reluctance to adapt to new publishing models, save for continuous attempts to unashamedly and brutally screw over inexperienced, first-time authors over their already-meagre royalties. Example: You sell your soul if you spend a year or more on a book only to find out that you’ll make fifty cents per every ebook. But if they didn’t do that, how could they afford the huge salaries of top executives, those travel expenses to international fairs, those roomy booths at Book Expo America?

So by now you’re either cheering me on, or you’ve already written me off as a bitter industry loser. As in, I didn’t win the lottery jackpot and got a book deal yet – because this is what this really is about – LUCK. Not talent so much as sheer, unadulterated luck: the RIGHT editor, the RIGHT submission, at the RIGHT time.
FACT: the vast majority of published authors out there only received one offer. That’s right: ONE offer. There was no bidding war. No hundred grand advance. Just ONE editor who had an empty slot in next fall’s line-up. THAT alone is what separates the unwashed masses like me from the “respectable” folks in the Chapters-Indigos and Barnes & Nobles of the world.

But if it was up to the industry, that’s not where I’m headed, or where most of us younger writers trying to put our work out there are headed. By misfortune of being born in this generation, at the cusp of the extinction of the bricks-and-mortal bookstores (may be another 10-20 years, but they’re going), we are being shut out of that dream we’ve all harboured: the vision of walking into over to that store display and seeing your baby in print, ready to captivate the world.

It doesn’t mean we can’t make a name for ourselves, or serious money. People have been so successful through Kindle, it would be insane not to consider it. But what I’m taking about is your work being out on the bookshelves of a hundred stores, reaching a mainstream audience that is kept away from you by virtue of the gate-keepers.

I’ve done everything right. I’ve played by the rules. I’ve gained a few prizes here and there, won substantial artist grants, gotten my name out there. I was even accepted by the most prestigious MFA program in Canada this spring, but because I have no money whatsoever, I’ve had to defer my spot.

I’ve had not one, but two literary agents. The first was more lazy than money-hungry and spent his entire day on Twitter playing the role of big agent man but not making any sales. At all. So I fired him and started fresh. The second agent seemed more promising. I listened to him, for a while, when he told me to add more violence, more of a 24 (the TV show) plotline and more “dirty lesbo sex” to my novel so it would sell – and I did all this out of fear that he would not submit my book to publishers. Until I couldn’t take it anymore and told him I was finished. With the power struggle, and with the proposed changes. Really finished.

For the last two years I’ve allowed myself be bullied by this industry – by agents, by writer forums where self-aggrandizing, arrogant assholes who published mid-list books pull rank on new writers, by editorial rumours of what sells, by everything. And at the end of the day, what did I get?

A manuscript that has been so twisted it seems foreign to me, but meets the vision of what the industry seems to want. And sure enough, it has received several generous editorial compliments over the past month, yet it keeps getting rejected. The rejections, of course, are all over the map – editor X will praise this and complain about that, and not a day later, editor Z will complain about this, and praise that which someone else had taken issues with. But nobody wants to take a chance on me.
Nobody.

The truth is, the literary world these days is a shitty, soul-wrenching crapshoot in which only the lucky and the well-connected will find a spot to land in. And if you are like me, if the only thing you ever had to cling to in your life was writing, you’ll keep on struggling, crying, and creating.

You belong. Don’t let them convince you otherwise.

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Posted in agent, art, artist, belonging, books, bullshit, commentary, freedom, life, literature, manuscript, news, perseverence, poetry, press, publishing, rejection, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »