Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Posts Tagged ‘writer’

Introducing my new Social Media Marketing book!

Posted by E on June 10, 2016

Art of Social Media COVER mockupSMM Cover small

I’m excited to pull back the veil from a project that has been in the works for the last few months. It’s been so hard to keep this baby a secret, but no more! The idea for this book spun off from my series on Social Media for Writers and took off like a rocket. After lots of positive feedback, questions from new clients and the need to elaborate on several points, it seemed logical to encapsulate all valuable information into a single book – The ART of Social Media: An Essential Guide for Writers and Artists.

There are probably thousands of marketing books out on the market about building your platform, launching your brand into the world and getting noticed. What makes mine special is that I write from experience – for over ten years I have developed both my own and other artist and business brands. I’ve met with publishers, was offered book deals, hired and fired literary agents, published poetry traditionally and self-published a number of books that sold very well.

In essence, I will be taking over a decade of experience as a writer and combining it with the knowledge I’ve gained in my Social Media Marketing studies at George Brown College in Toronto. Yes, after years of offering social media consulting to clients, I’m finally getting certified! I don’t believe it’s necessary to have a framed piece of paper on a wall in order to lead an effective marketing campaign, but it doesn’t hurt to have it.

So before you pay for marketing lessons or books written by well-meaning indie writers who don’t actually have a marketing or advertising background, consider getting a copy of my new book. As both a writer and working social media strategist, I can give you a hard-earned perspective that combines artistic creativity with marketing knowhow.

I will write about mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve gained, and share a recommended campaign plan and marketing strategy across most popular social media platforms. I will also cover what you absolutely have to do today to ensure tomorrow’s success, and what you’ll need in order to build a solid platform that reaches your target audience.

There will be lots more nitty-gritty stuff and specifics tools covered, but the basic gist and intent is to help you uncover the best (and secret) strategies for developing your artist brand. Trust me, it’ll be more than worth it, especially since I’ll be pricing it under $10.

Ok, I’ll let the book speak for itself. It should be available for pre-order in the next week or so, with the official release date set for December 1st. I can’t wait to share it with you guys 🙂

PS as always, any Patreon supporters at the $5 or more level will receive a free copy!

 

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Posted in books, marketing, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Become a Patron and Make a Difference

Posted by E on March 22, 2016

green valleys red tree

I really need your help, folks. As a rule of thumb I don’t like to depend on others’ generosity and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t absolutely crucial. But honestly, it is.

The first and last time I begged for spare change was a year ago, in order to finance my research trip to Eastern Europe. My crowdfunding efforts and book project were publicized in a front-page section of the Toronto Star on May 5, 2015. I managed to generate approx. $2000 through private and online donations, which was enough to pay for my flight and most of my rental accommodations in Bucharest. However, while working on the book I experienced a major depressive episode which was worsened by my mother’s death in December.

Researching in Romania, 2015

Researching in Romania, 2015

I’ve found it extremely difficult to work on my manuscript, which is all kinds of awful since it involves stripping away layers of multi-generational pain and heartache in my family. It didn’t help that my research into my father’s Securitate archives in Bucharest this past spring led me on a path toward discovering that my father had actually been killed by Ceausescu’s secret police.

In January I ended up in hospital after a suicide attempt, and my road to recovery has been rocky. To put it bluntly, I’ve found it extremely difficult to see a point for my life, for the traumas my parents went through…. I know we all feel like this sometimes, but I honestly didn’t see a purpose to my existence; I didn’t feel that anybody would care whether I lived or died.

An acute example of this manifested in the weeks right after my mother died – two of my closest friends didn’t care enough to phone me in person and see if I was okay. It was a brutal thing to discover – that people I really cared about, who I’d helped generate thousands of dollars in grants and helped immensely in the past – people who I thought cared about me also – seemed more interested in posting selfies of themselves in new outfits than in sending a single message of condolence. However, in the last couple of months I have come to realize that it was a blessing in disguise – it’s only at hard times that you discover who your real friends are.

I won’t deny it; it’s been awful trying to understand the roots of cruelty – whether the source of my parents’ childhood traumas or my own, or even to understand indifference and lack of empathy in people who I thought were good friends. And then there’s the issue of figuring out how to get out of bed in the morning. Believe me when I say that trying to self-motivate yourself after a suicide attempt, when you don’t see any value in your own existence, much less in your own work, is one of the hardest things in the world.

But recently I’ve stumbled onto a new means of both inspiring AND supporting myself while writing – by surrounding myself with people who actually want to be part of my artistic process. People who care about contributing to the arts, even if it’s with a single dollar every month. So this week I set up a new crowdfunding site on Patreon.com and I hope that I can connect with new people who will be my new family.

My Patrons are the family I never had – a family that supports and sustains me through the process of creating writing that aims to make a difference. I need each and every one of you, and everything I create is dedicated to you. Please support me by becoming an Arts Patron and make a difference.

Those who know me are aware of how badly I was exploited as a teenage girl – first by a radical homegrown terrorist group called the Heritage Front, and afterwards by Canada’s own CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Network), who exploited my story as a teenage kid and stole my identity for a 1998 film called White Lies, which starred Road to Avonlea’s Sarah Polley. While I lived in hiding after sending white supremacists to prison, dumpster-diving for survival, CBC producers were enjoying the limelight and financial benefits, along with Emmy and Gemini nominations, for a movie that wouldn’t have existed without my suffering.

I’ve never had any breaks in life, and I don’t say this because I expect any sympathy, because I’ve seldom received it. I am only stating a fact – that I need every single one of you because I have no family or fallback options. I put myself through university and graduated Magna cum Laude, I published in prestigious literary journals without knowing the editors, I won every award I’ve ever received with sweat and hard work, without any connections. I have nothing at all but my mind and my writing.

I ask only for a $5 donation every month, and you will be first to know about new books and artistic projects I’m involved in. I will give you an advance copy of every new book I create, and my promise that I will continually work on producing writing that aims to make a difference in the world.

Little-Match-Girl-Illustration-By-Rachel-IsadorI appreciate any contribution, no matter how big or how small. You can donate any amount you feel like. Even $1.00 can make a difference, if enough people contribute.

In centuries past, artists depended on the generosity of strangers and art patrons to fund their creative processes – and although we might live in the 21st century, little has changed. The Arts is still a field marked by poverty and uncertainty – most of the time you don’t know where your next funding source will come from. Often you don’t even know if people appreciate what you are trying to do until the work is out there.

But in those dark, rainy days where you are alone with your doubts and your demons (and those bills that need to get paid), it sure would help to know that someone out there cares about your work.

PLEASE consider being a part of my life. Help me find the inspiration I need by letting me know that others see value in my art. Please tell me that my work matters.

Please help me by becoming a Patron.

Posted in art, grief, inspiration, romania, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans

Posted by E on September 5, 2015

students demo student protesters

“Technically, you’re already in default,” said the man with the heavy Francophone accent. “You defaulted as of last month. There’s nothing else we can do. Your debt was sent to collections two weeks ago. You’ve already had a grace period extension.”

“But if you wait just one more month….” I started, straining to hear him over the crackle of the crappy long-distance connection. “I’m getting my first salary at the end of this month.”

“Is there no one who could lend you the first payment?” he asked sympathetically. “A family member? We can’t put off your repayments any longer.”

“No, but I’ll have the funds soon. I’ll get them transferred into my Canadian bank account and send you the cheque as soon as I get paid.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “You understand that I have no choice. It’s policy.”

He tried to be as nice as possible about it, but I was out of options. My credit was ruined. It was the year 2000, the birth a new millennium, and as a twenty-five year old I was supposed to be having the time of my life. Instead, I was screwed.

Student-Loan-DebtThis month I read a powerful NY Times op-ed by Lee Siegel, titled Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans. He spoke of a deeply-personal subject that parallels my own experiences – a situation I’ve never written or spoken about publicly. In light of the heavy criticism heaved upon Siegel for encouraging others to default, I feel it’s tremendously important to add my own story. Thousands of young grads’ lives are affected both by heavy student debts and by the decision to choose default and/or bankruptcy over being enslaved for decades – this is an option that shouldn’t be shrouded in shame.

Siegel wrote this about the difficult period following his graduation:

I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans. As difficult as it has been, I’ve never looked back. The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.”

grad ingreenI graduated in 1999 from the University of Ottawa, freshly-minted with a double major in Criminology and Psychology. For a former high-school drop-out with a turbulent past, I’d done exceptionally well in university: on the Dean’s Honour Roll for my first three years, receiving small merit scholarships and earning a Magna Cum Laude distinction. I’d also discovered my passion – writing. After dreaming of being a writer since childhood, in my last year of university I encountered a Creative Writing professor who encouraged me to pursue that vocation. Professor Seymour Mayne (who would become my long-time mentor, supporter and friend) believed in my potential and told me I had real talent, and that I shouldn’t be afraid of dedicating myself to it.

My Honours degree was an personal achievement, considering that I’d dropped out in grade nine and never attended high school; in its place, I took an equivalency exam and was awarded a GED (high school equivalency) diploma at age eighteen. My childhood had been rough and violent – an immigrant to Canada from age 11, I grew up with abusive parents. My father died after I turned 13 and my mother’s abuse continued, leading me to run away. After a couple of years in CAS group homes and foster care, I returned to my mother’s home. At age sixteen I was recruited by the Heritage Front, a dangerous racist gang that soon became the most powerful neo-Nazi, white supremacist group Canada has ever had.

By age eighteen, I knew I wanted out. After a series of events I described in my memoir Race Traitor, I spied on the group leaders and testified against three of them, sending them to prison. I would later find out that a co-founder, Grant Bristow, was a CSIS agent who had instigated several criminal acts about which I’d provided affidavits. At CSIS’s request (and to protect their agent, as discussed in a 1994 episode of CBC’s The Fifth Estate), my application to be admitted into the Witness Protection Program was denied.

defection 1994-2Hategan article Metro Toronto

I was nineteen, in danger after several death threats, and had nobody to protect me except for a small number of dedicated activists who risked their well-being to ensure I remained alive. I was on the run for over a year all along the East Coast and eventually settled in Ottawa and rented an extra room from a grad student. My roommate, Julie, encouraged me to apply to university. “How could I pay for it? How would I live?” I asked her.

“The way everybody does,” Julie answered. “Apply for OSAP, Canada Student Loans. Anything you can get. I’ll help you fill out the paperwork.”

fencing teamAnd so I did. With my GED and letters of reference in hand (for which I will be eternally grateful), I applied and was accepted by both Carleton and the University of Ottawa. I chose the latter. I moved closer to the campus, renting a sunny room in a century-old, red-bricked house on Macdonald Street. My years of study were beautiful and were a new childhood for me – I threw myself into my studies. I somehow managed to get on the varsity fencing team, and won first place at the Varsity Athletic Games. I volunteered in the community. I wrote papers for other students for extra cash and tutored foreign students in English. In summers I worked two jobs, both at magazine and tobacco shops – one on Sparks Street that paid me $7 under the table, the other being the famous Mags & Fags, Ottawa’s oldest newspaper and periodicals shop.

By the time I graduated, I was thankful for my loans and intended to repay them as soon as I was able to get a job. I had a grace period of six months from my graduation date before the loan repayments would kick in. Plenty of time to find something, right?

ottawa

On my Macdonald St porch

After a couple of months of searching, I landed an interview for a job that seemed made for me – as a staff member of a locked-up youth facility. It was a good job. By good, I mean earning double digits – $15 an hour instead of the minimum wage $7 I got paid at the magazine stores. With my years spent as a CAS kid and my dual criminology and psych degree, I was a shoo-in. I had cinched the interview and the smiling man across the desk was already discussing me coming in for shifts every other weekend, but for one last question:

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

Of course I didn’t. Not just because of the obvious reason – there was no way in hell I could afford a car, even a beat-up used one – but also due to my fear of being found by the men who had threatened to kill me.

Less than five years earlier, when I was just seventeen years old, I had been taught by the Heritage Front’s self-appointed “Intelligence chief”, Grant Bristow, that getting the info off drivers’ licenses was as easy as paying $5. “Access of information,” he’d told me. “You just need the driver’s name and you can get it through the Access to Information Act.”

Section 21(1)(c), to be precise. That’s how skinheads and neo-Nazis learned to track down their political opponents to their home addresses – via public voters’ registries and drivers’ licenses. With my name being so unique, I couldn’t take the risk of applying for a license unless I had a name change. And since CSIS had directed the RCMP (the Witness Protection Program falls under their jurisdiction) to dismiss my information in order to protect Bristow from criminal charges (both my ex-lawyer Paul Copeland and notorious Toronto attorney Clayton Ruby were working on getting Bristow’s crimes investigated) – I couldn’t get a name change.

Why? Because I owed student loans. To prevent fraud, Canadian law stipulates that you aren’t allowed to change your name if you have any unpaid debts or any pending court proceedings. That makes sense, except for the fact that at age nineteen, I had gone from an existence in hiding straight to university – which was only made possible by getting student loans. Now that I owed over $40,000, there was no way I could change my name. A driver’s permit (that revealed my home address) was out of the question.

Even if I might decide to risk being found, I was terrified to bring harm onto others – I worried about my elderly, frail landlady, about my roommates and the woman I was involved with at the time, who was Hispanic (and at risk for a racial attack if they found me). Knowing how the Heritage Front had been taught to operate by Grant Bristow, everyone around me was at risk. I owed it to all of them to reduce any potential traces of my address anywhere.

The interviewer looked apologetic. Even though the advertised position involved looking after incarcerated youth within the facility, their policy still required all staff to have licenses in case there was an emergency, or the kids were to attend an appointment outside the facility. I shook his hand and thanked him for considering me, and I managed to keep myself from bursting into tears until I was around the corner from the building.

All of a sudden I understood how screwed I really was. A criminology or social work degree was absolutely useless without a drivers’ permit. The CO’s from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre told me the same thing: just get your permit and reapply. They already knew me after I’d volunteered inside the prison as an arts coordinator for the Elizabeth Fry Society, and I’d also interviewed them for my Penal Justice term paper. But how could I tell them the truth – how deeply ashamed I was about my past. Even though I had been a minor, legally a child, for most of my involvement with the hate group – and I made amends by putting its leaders in prison – how could I tell potential employers why I was afraid to have my address on my ID, or register anything under my name? Wouldn’t such a past immediately kill my chances at employment?

memeI thought about Grant Bristow. I thought of how the CSIS agent, co-founder and co- leader of the Heritage Front was sitting pretty in a three-car garage house bought by taxpayers’ money (and getting a living stipend to the tune of $3000 per month) despite never testifying in any court proceedings. All because CSIS made sure to get him into the Witness Protection Program and ensured that I would be rejected from the same program.

So now that I couldn’t get a license (for risk of being tracked down) jobs in my field were out of the question. Furthermore, all government jobs I applied to (Canada’s capital being, after all, a hive of bureaucracy) required a working fluency in French, which I lacked. Soon I found myself in the same boat as so many other young grads – dependent on $7, minimum-wage jobs. I worked ten hours a day and cried myself to sleep worrying about whether I could make it as a writer. How would I find the time to write? Would I end up a shop girl for the rest of my life, selling souvenirs, newspapers and cigarettes to tourists on Sparks and Elgin streets?

What had seemed a perfectly good job as a student was no longer such a rosy prospect. I felt depressed and frustrated with my every failure to secure a well-paying job. Depression set in and I stopped going to work at the magazine store. The six months came impossibly fast – I practically blinked and my payments were due. Something in the vicinity of $500 a month. I made minimum payments on my credit cards and begged the student loans people to please give me an extension.

To my surprise, a lady from the bank took pity on me. Three more months, she said. She’d obviously heard enough similar tales to understand the difficult position I found myself in. But that was it, my last lifeline – no more extensions after that.

major-s-hill-parkI pounded the pavement again. It was a scorching summer and my depression had grown worse. To keep myself together, I often walked to the top peak of Major Hill’s Park, crouched down on the grass and wrote poetry. I loved seeing the jutting glass arches of the National Gallery of Canada building, the way it looked like a crystal palace hovering over the sea of multihued tulips that spread from the grassy hillocks toward the artsy Byward Market.

Sometimes I clambered down to the rocks along the shoreline and sat on my favourite boulder, watching the tumultuous waves of the Rideau River crash against the rough beach pebbles and rootless tree branches.

alexandra bridgeUpward and to my right, the steel beams of the Alexandra Bridge glinted, catching the sparks of late afternoon sunlight. I liked that bridge. My landlady’s daughter Jennifer told me that one of her best friends had committed suicide in winter by throwing herself off it and smashing into the ice floats below, and I had made a mental note at the back of my head that if all else failed, that was as good a plan as any.

If I couldn’t make it as a writer and couldn’t get a decent job, what the fuck was the point?

Major_Hill_ParkAnd then two miracles happened, and they came back-to-back in such a way that it was impossible not to take it as a sign of greater things to come. The first (and best) news was that The Fiddlehead, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary journals, was going to publish one of my poems! I’d had poetry appear in University of Ottawa publications before, but this was the first time an independent publication liked my writing enough to put it into print. When they mailed me the issue in which my poem appeared, with a cheque for $40 tucked inside, I was ecstatic and fueled with hope – maybe I could make a living as a writer after all.

The following week, a friend forwarded me an email from Adam, a recruiter for Korean hogwons (privately-owned tutorial schools) who was looking for English-speaking young people to teach ESL. No experience needed – you just had to have a BA (in any field) and speak fluent, native-proficiency English. And they paid more than the part-time job I’d just quit.

Soon I was on the phone with the guy. “Is this a scam?” I asked him.

“No, of course not.”

“Do I have to pay for my flight?”

“Nope.”

“So what’s the catch? Are they a strip club? A prostitution ring?”

He laughed. “There’s no catch – they’re desperate and will fast-track everything. They’ll Fedex you the flight ticket, set you up in your own accommodations close to the school, and you only have to work twenty hours a week. They’ll pay you 1600 won a month and they don’t care if you’ve never been around kids before. You’ll likely teach a combination of kids, teenagers and adults.”

Getting paid the equivalent of $1600 a month for only 20 hours a week – with the potential of making double that income if I tutored privately after hours – sounded insanely great for someone in my desperate position. And best thing was, no driver’s license was needed!

azaleas koreaLess than a week later my flight ticket arrived from Singapore Airlines. The next day I took the bus to Montreal so that I could get my work visa from the Korean Consulate, since I was leaving the following week. They had seen many young people like me, the smiling lady at the consulate told me. Recent grads without job prospects at home, fleeing by the thousands to high-paying teaching jobs in Japan and South Korea. But Korea paid better, covered accommodations, and the cost of living in Seoul was a lot less than Tokyo.

Afterwards I packed all my things in one feverish 24-hour period and carried them to the basement, thankful that my landlady Pat had allowed me to store my things while I was gone. On a dark and rainy Monday morning, my best friend Dina drove me to the airport. She herself didn’t have any other jobs beside her brother’s magazine shop on Sparks street. Soon she would depart for France, where she’d been offered a contract position for six months. Since she loved Paris she’d probably have done it for free, especially once she managed to talk an elderly aunt who lived in a crappy outer arrondisement to let her crash on her sofa.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never return to live in Ottawa. By the time I found myself back in Canada, a year and a half later, most of my friends had left the capital. Nearly all of them because they couldn’t find work there and had heavy student loan burdens that needed to be covered. Half a dozen ended up in South Korea. The rest scattered throughout Ontario, and several went back to school. The general thought was, What do you do when you can’t get a job? Simple: enroll in graduate school and take out another student loan – that delays the payback period.

We were the screwed Gen X generation – kids born in the 70s and early 80s, nestled precipitously between the relatively-young, unionized Baby Boomers who’d taken all the best jobs and refused to be pushed out before age seventy, and a newer age cohort who would take all the entry-level jobs of the new millennium.

Seoul Korea editNaively, I still thought that I could pay back my student loans. I was still one month shy of defaulting, and I was going to scrimp and save every penny to send it back to ScotiaBank. But within the first couple of weeks at my new job in Inchon, Korea, I realized that I’d made a mistake – my contract wasn’t being honoured. The school director was giving me additional hours for which I wouldn’t get paid, and I was lowest on the totem pole among the other foreign teachers, who all saddled me with their most difficult classes.

I felt lost and upset at the deception. I still had my return flight ticket, but I didn’t want to quit and return to Canada. I was just starting to like Korea. My problem was, according to Korean law, my work visa was attached to that particular hogwon (school). If I had any hope of working in Korea, I would have to find a new school who could reimburse my director for the flight, documentation costs and the finder’s fee paid out to the recruiter.

elisa with studentsLuckily, I was in a country where my ability to speak perfect English was in high demand. I met with Adam, the guy who’d recruited me, and over the course of one Saturday we walked around downtown Seoul until we found a school looking to hire. My new school director negotiated a price on my head with my ex-director, and a fee was decided upon. I also promised my old director that I would work for free (and forfeit my first month’s income) as long as he signed the official documentation releasing me from my work contract with his particular hogwon.

By the time I started my new job in Seoul, another month had passed. Once I was settled into my new apartment in the Kangdong-Cheonho district and had an official address, my landlady Pat forwarded me a large padded envelope containing all my letters from ScotiaBank and the student loans people. It was then that I realized I’d ran out of time.

I scrambled to make my credit card payments via snail mail – these were the days before online banking was introduced, which would have made my life a whole lot easier. Then I made an appointment to speak with a ScotiaBank rep about my student loans. Given the 12-hour time difference, I stayed up until the middle of the night to speak with him, only to be told it was too late.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “Your loan has gone into default. There’s nothing else we can do for you.”

with students in Koreawith studentsmy classdrama festival

me in ChinaI worked hard that year and saved up thousands of dollars. I taught private classes nearly every night after my hogwon shifts ended and paid off every cent of my two existing credit cards. Then I scrimped some more. I even put aside a little to take a week-long vacation to Beijing and scale the Great Wall of China during my school break.

When my teaching contract ended, I had to make a choice – to pay off a portion of my student loan, or to live? It wasn’t a hard choice to make. Now that I was jobless once again, I could give ScotiaBank the ten thousand dollars I had put aside and then incur more interest until I was back up to $40,000+ once again. I could try to join the rat race back in Canada and work myself into oblivion at a job I hated, just so I could salvage my shitty credit score. Or I could hide out abroad, away from the collectors and knee-breakers, and write.

I was a traveller before I could afford it. I dreamed of exotic places and faraway destinations, and all that stood between me and living that dream was an insurmountable student loan I knew I could never pay off. I didn’t have any supportive family and had the misfortune to be poor and unconnected in a place where money and connections buys you everything.

So much of my past had been ripped from me as a child, during Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. I wanted to revisit Romania and find out how my father died, to track down old relatives, trace my roots through Hungary and Poland, and understand the bloody history of an Eastern Europe whose DNA flowed in my veins.

students-loans2And I wanted to write. In order to get that time to travel to write, I had to default on my student loans. In some ways, I was fortunate that nobody else had co-signed my loans. It wasn’t like I was making a high enough income to worry about garnishment or income tax withholding. In fact, I didn’t even plan on returning to Canada for several more years – I wanted to work in Korea or live in South America next. My credit score was the only casualty, and I was willing to sacrifice it in order to be a writer.

I knew that eventually I would have to find a partner with good credit, who could support me during the times when my bad credit might haunt me. Someone who could understand that I’d never be able to co-sign on property, or car loans, or anything that demanded a review of my credit score. Who’d understand my need to forge ahead as a writer despite the financial catastrophe that a career in the arts usually entails. Fortunately, I was eventually able to find such a person, and as the years passed my student loans became a distant nightmare I seldom thought about.

As Siegel writes, “Am I a deadbeat? In the eyes of the law I am. Indifferent to the claim that repaying student loans is the road to character? Yes.”

Who the hell has the right to lecture bankrupt students on morality? The colleges whose greed-driven, soaring tuitions are making higher education an increasingly-unaffordable commodity? The banks who defraud, bribe, and are experts in insider trading and nepotism? We may have outgrown debtor prisons, but we still live in a world where if you’re poor and cannot pay your mortgage, you’re kicked onto the streets. Considered barely different from a common criminal. Whereas if you’re a bank and you break all sorts of laws, you’re given a bailout plan worth millions.

We live in a country where an intelligence agent who helps create a neo-Nazi white supremacist group, who plans and directs criminal acts with impunity and never accounts for a single arrest and prosecution gets a payoff worth close to a million dollars from Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, but a teenage girl who testifies against white supremacist leaders (who go to prison) gets denied Witness Protection and has to go on the run for her life.

student_loan_debt__too big to fail   Seniors-with-student-loan-debt

“If the banks have become too big to fail, then the people have become too small to succeed,” argues Siegel, defending what he says would be “a collective act of civil disobedience” if everyone would simply default.

And I agree.

Am I unethical? To some, most definitely. But if I am unethical, then so are the banks who sent my student loans into default without giving me another chance. So are the government agents who instigated the harassment, terror attacks and assaults of innocent Canadian citizens and simultaneously denied me the opportunity to start a new life. So are governments who invest far more in prisons and the military than in their own citizens’ educations.

Canada changed its official policy on bankruptcy and student loans on July 7, 2008 – reducing the time limit you had to wait before declaring bankruptcy from 10 years to 7 years.

On July 8, I made the first appointment with a bankruptcy attorney in downtown Toronto. By the following Monday I was in their office, signing the required papers. In the eight years since I’d graduated, my student loan and interest had ballooned to $50,000.

Nine months after, I was free. Free to breathe. Free to legally change my name.

Free to live again.

you_are_not_a_loan

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Posted in freedom, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Importance of Blogging – 10 Top Reasons

Posted by E on September 1, 2015

Girl on tablet with social media icon chalkboard

Every day, about 175,000 blogs are created. There is a blog born every half-second. So why should YOU start one, you might ask? The real question you should ask yourself is, why haven’t you started one yet? There might be millions of blogs out there, but they are not all created equal. In the blogosphere, Longevity, Frequency and Quality are king.

shakespeare blogSome are simply online journals that capture an individual’s daily routines. Some are heavy-duty corporate articles that attract thousands of readers, or motivational pieces that are retweeted and reblogged hundreds of times. Each blog is different and some serve multiple purposes. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, based on how search engines rank their pages, a blog that updates more frequently will rise up in the search results and achieve greater exposure than a static site.

FIVE BUSINESS REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD BLOG:

Of course static websites like a .com have not outrun their purpose – but the most successful sites will have incorporated blogging as part of their brand-building strategy. You can also buy a .com domain and point it to a blog, which is what I’ve done in several cases where I didn’t want to pay for hosting a static website. Nowadays you can integrate a classic website with a blog architecture, as is the case of WordPress.org – where you can own your domain but still use the powerful blogging tools that WordPress offers.

people in the information space

  1. The cardinal rules of blogging are 1) Post frequently, and 2) don’t post articles that are too long. I’m guilty of violating the second rule rather frequently since many of my pieces run well in excess of 1000 to 2000 words. I believe in creating comprehensive and well-researched articles and often there is much more to be said about a subject than can be encapsulated in 500 words. But whenever I can, I make sure to break up the large chunk of text with appropriate images or fun facts, so it gets easier on the eyes.

Here are some reasons you need to incorporate blogging into your business:

1. Drive Traffic to your Website via built-in Links

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Each article posted on your personal or company blog has the power to drive traffic to your domain and sell your brand and/or products, along with potentially cross-networking with other powerful sites. The more interesting the material you post, the more likelihood there is for catching people’s attention and gathering awareness for your main product site.

blogging importance2. Increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Eighty percent of people who search for information online never get past the first page of results. It is therefore crucial that your business and brand identity appears in the top ten search results. Blogging frequently attracts higher traffic to your site and will result in your website being indexed higher in Google and other internet browsers, which in turn will lead to further expansion of your name and brand.

Companies that blog have 434% more indexed pages. And 9.81% of businesses consider their blogs to be an important asset to their businesses. Blogging is a sure-fire way to increase your SEO and do it fast. According to Social Media B2B, companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those that don’t.

Fresh content is key to beating out your competitors in search engine results and boosting your offline business. According to a 2010 study by the Kelsey Group, 97% of all consumers use online media to shop locally. Another study conducted by Intelius shows that 78% of consumers consider it important to look up information about businesses online before deciding to interact with them.

3. Establish your Brand as an Expert in your Particular Field

For years now I’ve written blogs for several corporations and non-profit organizations, mostly as a ghostwriter – meaning I was hired to write articles for the particular company to publish at their own discretion. I’ve also built several websites for clients and created their web content. I cannot stress how invaluable it is to keep constant, new information coming. Writing one entry every couple months or so will never build enough interest to bring people back to your site. And it’s not just a matter of creating content, but actually making it interesting and relevant for your audience.

4. Develop New and Improved Relationships with Clients, Fans and Customers

A key to being an effective blogger is the opportunity to engage with new people who search for keywords and stumble onto your blog. After several years, I have close to six thousand regular subscribers to my Incognito Press blog. I probably could have built more connections if I had been more persistent in updating my content. There were months when I was working on other projects and neglected my own website. However, despite the occasional breaks over the years, I’m at the point where my blog averages approx. a hundred new hits a day – and on days when I publish a new piece, my traffic spikes to several hundred.

why blog blogging 5. Increase Sales of your Product or Services, which will Monetize your Brand

Many of the people who purchase my books discovered me and my story through the articles I posted on my blog. Aside from being able to sell books through a blogging platform, you can also be paid to write articles on various products. Leading bloggers in their field are often given free products and/or monetary compensation for reviewing anything from fashion products to consumer goods. The more traffic you generate to your site, the more your brand value increases and you become a commodity. Eventually you have the option of selling your blog and associated domain at a premium, or publishing its contents as a book – the sky’s the limit!

FIVE PERSONAL REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD BLOG:

Should you blog, even if you have nothing to sell? Of course you should, and here are some reasons why:

how_to_blog1. Blogging Improves your Writing

I started blogging sometime in 2007, I think. Over the years I’ve noticed that, just like in journalism, blogging has helped me immensely in writing clearer and faster. Why is it like journalism? In a press office, journalists are expected to produce certain word counts on a deadline – after a while, the thought of writing 1000 words per day becomes routine. Practice makes perfect!

No more Writer’s Block

If you blog for as long as I have, you begin to realize that there’s really no such thing as writer’s block. Just like going for a walk, writing involves the process of putting one step in front of another until you get to the end of your goal – word after word after word, and then it’s done. It’s giving up the excuse of lack of concentration, and realizing that – just like in working out – blogging daily or weekly develops your writing muscle.

2. Blogging gives you a Voice

blogging voiceFew things are better than getting something off your chest. Art – writing, painting, dancing – are incredibly powerful and therapeutic methods to make yourself be heard in a world where it’s so easy for people to fall through the cracks. It’s a means to record your experiences through your own unique filter. It will capture a lasting chronicle of your days, months and years, as well as leave something behind for your loved ones when you are gone. Just like anything you create, it’s a legacy of your essence in this world and an important part of our collective history.

blogging-community3. A Supportive Community

Blogging can get you to come out of your shell. You can network with new people and be introduced to an audience and community of supporters who understand you and encourage your dreams. I’ve met some really amazing people through my blog or by reading their blogs, and I’ve been enriched by their presence in my life.

4. You are a Journalist

sky horizonHow many times have you watched your local television news and saw them quoting Twitter users or YouTube posters? In the age of social media, online news providers – yes, this means your blog also! – are at the forefront of NEW MEDIA. In fact, they are replacing traditional media at an astounding rate. Independent news networks and blogger sites are the main reason newspapers are shutting down all over the country and paid jobs in journalism are increasingly scarce. This isn’t a bad thing, people – the increased diversity of voices brings fresh and original perspectives to the human experience. It opens the door to niches and new ideas. It sparks a new hunger that ignites the imagination and originality.

bloggervsjournalistAs a blogger who often writes commentaries on politics and the arts, I can tell you that my blogs have attracted the attention of mainstream press and have reached many thousands of individuals. I’ve come to the conclusion that bloggers (especially those who cover hard-hitting issues) aren’t just doing a hobby but an actual job. Their pieces can be sold to newspapers and magazines and, in fact, they can be considered freelance journalists.

5. It can Lead to Speaking Engagements, Publishing Deals & Jobs

In the publishing world, there’s almost nothing better than having a platform of thousands of readers. There are authors who were rejected hundreds of times and subsequently developed such a strong following that agents and publishers came crawling after them. Many of them don’t even want a traditional deal anymore. Based on the contents of my blog, I’ve been asked to be a speaker at various conferences and have hand-sold more books than the average first print-run Canadian author typically gets.

Your new resume and calling card

Most companies’ HR departments are now regularly googling prospective new employers. People want to know you and what you’re all about, and this is your chance to establish yourself as someone who knows your field well.

Finally, the more you write and the more attention you get from your pieces, the more likelihood that you might be offered a freelance or ghostwriting gig. And there’s no better feeling than getting paid for what you were already doing for free.

On that note – if anyone reading this wants to hire me to write your blogs for you or your company, drop me a line! 😉

Blogging Brand Voice1

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

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The Artist’s Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 2: Crowdfunding Your Project

Posted by E on August 27, 2015

Marc-Chagall_I-And-The-Village

About ten years ago I stumbled upon a revolutionary website that introduced me to the concept of microloans: Kiva.org. With as little as $25, I could contribute funds to individuals all over the world, and especially in impoverished third world countries, in order to help them achieve their business goals. People who wouldn’t normally have access to traditional banking systems were now able to obtain loans and expand their income, providing better lives for their families. Within a year, my partner and I had contributed to more than a dozen businesses and were rewarded as our funds were paid back both monetarily and through the sense of joy we experienced each time we were sent an update or photo from the person we’d funded.

community treeAfter my introduction to Kiva, I started wondering if there wasn’t a way to contribute financial resources to individuals in need without the need of a payback. Sure enough, within a few short years, the concept of crowdfunding exploded. Crowdfunding is, in essence, the potential to leverage the power of social media in order to build widespread support for a project. Crowdfunding builds upon the idea of crowdsourcing: “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call.” (Wikipedia)

The basic concept of generally goes like this: you pitch an idea, set a fundraising goal and choose a deadline for raising funds – typically 30 to 45 days from start. (The last point has been rendered obsolete with the introduction of new, never-expiring platforms like GoFundMe).

A 2014 Forbes article quotes a Crowdfunding Industry Report by Massolution which states that an estimated $5.1 Billion was raised through online crowdfunding in 2013. 2014 brought new crowdfunding sites that further accelerated the rapid industry growth.

crowdfunding umbrellaKickstarter was the major crowdfunding website that started it all – whether needing the cash to fund an innovative consumer product, a CD release or to get an indie film made, people who might never have had the ability to see their dream in action began to connect with others who understood their vision and, more importantly, were willing to bankroll it with as little as a single dollar.

Kickstarter’s unique concept still rests in its all-or-nothing approach – if your financial goal isn’t met by the end of the campaign, everyone who contributed gets their money refunded and the project creator walks away with nothing. This was meant to encourage 1) realistic fundraising goals, and 2) the public’s trust that their money would actually be used for a project that got enough funding to actually get made.

Because of their history and the public’s familiarity with its concept and reliability, Kickstarter still remains the most popular platform for crowdfunding. However, the competition for funds is fierce, and now there is such demand for campaign creation that Kickstarter’s team has implemented a system of pre-approval – which means you compete with other idea pitchers before you even have a chance to be featured on the site. Due to the fierce competition, having a high-quality video that explains your pitch is pretty much a necessity.

However, there are a couple of other newer crowdfunding sites that are rapidly gaining in brand name recognition and giving people a chance to raise funds without forcing them to take an all-or-nothing risk. The most reliable competitors to Kickstarter are Indiegogo and GoFundMe.

Crowdfunding_Future

This spring I launched a campaign on Indiegogo for a new memoir project, and two months later I continued it using GoFundMe as a platform. Both sites have a lot of similarities, and while I chose Indiegogo initially and would still recommend it to start with (I’ll explain why in a minute), I found that GoFundMe offers the most flexibility via their open-ended campaign platform. This means there is no expiry date to the pitch, and you can keep the link live and continue receiving donations over time, as long as people are still willing to support your project.

It’s no secret why I chose not to go the Kickstarter route – the all-or-nothing approach was a deal-breaker for me. I’m not a gambling person, and I don’t have thousands of fans and family members to solicit from. I also dreaded the figures – as of today’s Kickstarter stats, only 37.12% of projects are successful. I feared having to beg everyone for donations for a month and raise only a portion of my needed amount – only to lose it all. It wasn’t a gamble I was willing to make.

So I went with Indiegogo because they have a beautiful and intuitive website interface and lots of the artists I know were using them at the time to fund their project. I think I set a deadline of 45 days for my campaign, and then it was live and searchable within minutes. No glitches, no staff preapproval process – just smooth sailing all the way. They also have a much larger international presence than Kickstarter, and aren’t as North American-centric. An important factor for me, given that my book research involved travel to eastern Europe.

The thing that makes GoFundMe third in my view (behind Kickstarter and Indiegogo) is the fact that you need to raise a threshold of $500 before your campaign can be featured and searchable on their public site. The link still works, but it’s not searchable via their website. However, GoFundMe makes up for this major flaw by allowing you to withdraw the donations as soon as they come rolling in, instead of waiting for an expiration date.

There are, of course, other websites where you can raise funds for humanitarian cause or a charitable purpose – the most popular among non-profit organizations is FirstGiving. But since this is a Basic Guide for Artists (and since my word-count for this article is reaching epic proportions) I’m going to limit myself to these top three sites.

Infographics-CrowdFundingIf you take a moment to visit my crowdfunding project pages at Indiegogo and GoFundMe, you’ll see how I set them up and the kinds of thank-you Rewards (or Perks, as Indiegogo calls it) you can provide to your donors. It’s extremely important to offer something back – because people need to see proof of their donation in action. Even if your project might be delayed in completion – and one of the biggest complaints about Kickstarter and other platforms is that the projects often run late in delivery – you still need to keep your backers informed as to how things are going.

All in all, I raised close to $2000 for my book using a combination of Indiegogo, GoFundMe and private donations via Paypal – I’d set up a donation button on my website and sent the link to anyone who expressed discomfort over registering on a crowdfunding website. I was actually surprised at how many people opted to donate directly to me. Although I still came short of my goal of $8000, the money I did raise was invaluable and helped cover my flight ticket to Romania, as well as part of the cost of accommodations.

crowdfunding hands    crowdfunding steps

A 12-Step Battleplan on how you can get your project funded:

1. Do Your Homework

Look up the most successful campaigns on Kickstarter – after you watch a few pitches, a pattern starts to emerge. The best campaigns will use humour or emotion to elicit a response from their potential backer audience.

2. Develop a Social Media Strategy

Identify any particular target audience and figure out how to reach them. It might involve joining new groups and discussions on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, Yahoo Groups, Google Plus and anyplace in between. If you have any media contacts, try to line up interviews as soon as the campaign goes live. Remember that it takes time for a story to be developed, approved by an editor and then broadcast on television or in print, and a campaign can go by really fast. So make sure your media exposure will take place while the campaign is still live.

crowdfunding tree3. Appeal to your Friends and Fanbase

If you already have a fanbase or following built around your artistic or professional profile, you need to leverage it. You may need to contact each person individually, so start early. Customize your promotion to suit your platform. Don’t just ask your friends and fans for money – ask them to spread the word among their own friends and contacts. Asking them to donate a moment of their time to share your link (especially if they don’t have a job and money to contribute financially) is equally important.

4. Create a Winning Pitch

Be passionate about what you’re trying to create. Show your emotion and let people feel how important this is to you. Don’t hold back, and don’t just assume others will understand how critical it is. This isn’t a time to be subtle, so go forth with all guns blazing. Try to make an impression from the first paragraph. Don’t assume people will scroll down and read your entire pitch, so try to grab them from the first sentence.

If you have the ability to film your pitch – do it. The added human factor of your audience seeing and hearing you speak from your heart about what you want to accomplish will make a huge difference. I’ve seen fantastic videos and poorly-made ones, and in my opinion if you don’t have the skills or equipment to produce a good video, it’s probably better to skip it and focus on other visual imagery such as photos. At the bare minimum, you absolutely must have a photo of yourself so that people can see who they are backing.

5. Project Confidence

whether-you-think-you-can-henry-fordIt’s crucial that you maintain confidence in your vision. You have to believe that you can accomplish this – because if you show any doubt, how are you going to inspire confidence in others?

Above all – can you deliver on your pitch? Do you have the experience or credentials to get this done? If you’re pitching for a movie, do you have any knowledge of media production or camerawork? If you’re pitching for a book – have you ever written and/or published anything before? In essence – are you qualified or equipped to get the work done?

“People don’t want to back a campaign that’s not going to work,” says writer and entrepreneur Seth Godin about his crowdfunding experiences. You have to convince your potential backers that you are a winner, that cool kid who’s going to re-enact a David vs Goliath epic battle and triumph in the end. Most people want to support others succeed and vicariously join in that feeling of triumph and success.

6. Show How the Money will be Spent

Don’t just talk about how important this is to you. people need to see a detailed explanation of how exactly you’ll be using their money. The more detailed the plan, the more credibility you’ll gain for your project. Make a ballpark figure on what it will cost to supply materials, or what the travel and research costs might be, within reason.

7. Get your Hands Dirty – Promote Every Day

It still surprises me how many people think they can just launch a crowdfunding project and it will magically get funded. For every idiot who wins the Kickstarter lottery by pitching a harebrained concept like making potato salad and gets $50,000, there are thousands of worthwhile, well-thought-out projects that go unnoticed and unfunded. So don’t assume that yours will be the one that gets lucky, because the odds are against you.

This mentality of “If you build it, they will come” is just plain wrong, because it enables you to get lazy about soliciting donations from everywhere around you. Remember: close to 50 percent of donations will come from people you know. Yes, you read that right. For campaigns to go viral, your friends have to share with their friends, who in turn tell all their friends and relatives about it.

Email everyone in your contacts list. Tweet about it every other day. Contact people who aren’t normally on social media – email them at their regular email addresses. Ask them to check out your campaign link and tell you what they think. I’ve received cheques in the snail mail and Paypal donations directly. Don’t just rely on Kickstarter or Indiegogo – money can come from unexpected sources!

8. Don’t use Social Media exclusively as a Promotional Tool

crowdfunding offlineDon’t start friending new people and joining new groups to just post a link to your crowdfunding campaign. Some group moderators might consider such an approach as spamming. Worse yet, new friends and potential new acquaintances will see your approach as not entirely genuine. So take the time to build new contacts and relationships with people before telling them about your campaign. Build meaningful engagements that will last well beyond your campaign’s expiry date.

It might take a lot of time, but you have to make the time to contact people individually. Personalize your emails and Facebook direct messages to each person – don’t just mass-email a “Hey guys, I need your help” message, because it will be ignored. It’s much harder to ignore a personalized request than a spam-type message. Yes, this involves tailoring your messages to each person in your Facebook or LinkedIn account, but you’ll likely get people’s attention that way.

9. You might need to use Social Media Advertising

The average crowdfunding campaign earns less than $10,000. If you have a significant goal, you will need to buy ads. From my experience, Facebook ads (and to a smaller degree, Twitter ads) are likely the best option to target consumers, but getting the right key words to target a particular audience is crucial. Don’t make your reach too broad or too narrow, but also remember that you can’t spend too much money – the whole point of this is to earn donations for your project, not spend for advertising. Create a budget for the ads – say, $50 – and stick to it.

10. Set a Reasonable Intention

If the project costs will be very high (say, over $10,000) consider breaking up the crowdfunding campaign into several chunks. This is especially important on an all-or-nothing platform like Kickstarter, where if your goal is too high you risk losing everything you’ve already raised. It’s something I’ve seen over and over, and it’s really sad considering how much energy and hope people put into their fundraising.

Even if your funding model is flexible, such as on Indiegogo, don’t consider it an invitation to set an unrealistic goal. I’ve recently seen an Indiegogo campaign for a book by a first-time author set its goal at $40,000. This is excessive and will be perceived as unreasonable by almost anyone who reads that pitch – the author didn’t mention any travel plans or particular reason why he would ask for such a high figure and, given his lack of a writing background, it appeared like a delusional request. When it comes to crowdfunding books – where there isn’t a high cost for manufacturing materials and the most expensive item on your list might be a laptop or word processor, you have to be especially careful to be realistic. Even if the project involves travel for research, try to keep your budget as tight as possible.

Remember that people naturally and subconsciously want to side with a winner. Don’t let them smell the possibility of a failure by making an unreasonable demand.

11. Your Success or Failure at Crowdfunding does Not Reflect Your Project’s Intrinsic Value

light brightlyThis is the most important thing I can tell you – don’t take it personally if people you thought you could count on don’t come through for you. In my mind, this is the most important thing to remember – it hurts far more to be ignored by people you’ve been friends for years than by casual online acquaintances.

There were girls I went to school with, women I had histories with, old classmates who were employed in good government jobs. People who frequently posted photos of fancy restaurant dinners and weekends away at exotic retreats. People who always seemed to be online on Facebook….except for the month I started posting about my fundraising campaign. It’s a phenomenon I’ve read about on other people’s blogs — your so-called friends mysteriously vanish, make up some excuse about not having seen your post, or promise to take a look later and then never respond to your messages….until your campaign is finished. Then suddenly everybody is talking to you again. There’s no more awkwardness about not wanting to cough up $5 or $10 to support your vision.

I don’t consider people like these friends anymore. It’s a harsh statement to make, but in this age of social media we often fool ourselves into thinking we are more popular than we really are. You can boast of a thousand Facebook “friends” but in reality have less than ten people in your close circle who really “get” who you are.

tree dont give upCrowdfunding has a funny way of revealing who is really in your court. I can understand the reluctance of people who don’t know me personally to get involved in supporting my campaign (although donating a single dollar wouldn’t kill them). But I have to admit that yes, I did experience disappointment and feelings of betrayal when individuals I considered friends for decades (and who were gainfully employed) wouldn’t even acknowledge my messages or offer a single dollar as a donation. Even as a gesture of faith.

In fact, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition between friends in lower-income brackets and those making higher figures – in general, the ones with less money actually donated more to my campaign. With a couple of exceptions I’m very grateful for, many of those who considered themselves upper-middle class or in the highest income bracket were actually the stingiest.

It’s next to impossible not to take this personally, not to see the lack of donations as a correlation to someone’s lack of faith in you. Because it is. I’m going to be frank here, but if someone who’s known you for most of your life, is privy to your hopes, ambitions and passions and recognizes what this project means to you and still makes an excuse or refuses to help, it’s not about not having $5 to give.

Support comes in many ways – people can still share the link to your campaign on their Facebook wall, with their friends or Twitter network. They can send you a message of encouragement, if nothing else. Someone who doesn’t offer a single dollar and doesn’t share the link with anyone cannot claim to have any support for your dreams. This is a hard fact to accept, but in the end you must understand that it’s not to do with you. Their unwillingness to help is more due to stinginess, jealousy or perhaps one’s lack of faith in their own ability to crowdfund successfully. No matter what the reason, it’s not your fault.

Forget the nay-sayers and the unsupportive. Show them how they missed out on being part of something truly wonderful and possibly even revolutionary. Above all, remember this: Someone’s rejection of your dream isn’t a judgement on the strength or worthwhileness of what you are trying to accomplish.

The famous Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, ‘In prosperity it is very easy to find a friend; in adversity, nothing is so difficult.’ When you’re popular and on top of the world, everybody is your friend. But when you’re down and need support, be it emotional or financial, the herd thins out and you begin to see who your real friends actually are.

12. You’re Not Doing This Alone

Whether you get all the funding you need, or a small portion of it – it’s important to be grateful. Even if you asked for $10,000 and received only $100, it’s a hundred dollars you didn’t have before and it brings with it the knowledge that others have faith in you. Don’t think about those who didn’t support you – think of the people who did. Persevere and get the work done. Over-deliver on everything you promised.

Even when things get rough, remember that you have a crowd of supporters behind you – these people implicitly understand and support your vision. Some will be close friends, others new acquaintances and even complete strangers who donate anonymously. This is the beauty of crowdfunding –you are embraced by a strong circle of supporters who are your motivation and a battalion for your self-esteem. Your campaign backers are walking with you at every step of the way. You’re doing this for them as much as you’re doing it for you – so use their willingness to take a chance on your dream as fuel for your fire.

imagination meme

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Protected: You’re not going to read this anyway

Posted by E on July 19, 2012

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Posted in activism, agent, anonymous, art, artist, books, canada, culture, depression, identity, literature, longing, media, news, perseverence, poetry, politics, publishing, rejection, revolution, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Enter your password to view comments.

Alice in Writerland

Posted by E on June 4, 2012

Image

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

June 4, 2012

Toronto, Ontario

Incognito Press announces the publication of ALICE IN WRITERLAND: A WRITER’S ADVENTURES IN THE UGLY WORLD OF PUBLISHING, written by local author Elisa Hategan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisa Hategan is the Romanian-Canadian author of RACE TRAITOR, a debut novel based on her experiences inside a terrorist group, which won a Toronto Arts Council award, an Ontario Arts council grant, and a Canada Arts Council work-in-progress award, as well as qualified as semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.

ABOUT THE BOOK

ALICE IN WRITERLAND is a heartbreaking, candid and scathing indictment of the publishing industry and the personal sacrifices involved in the pursuit of success. Much more than a shocking exposé of unprofessional behavior in the literary world, however, this is a memoir that transcends into an intense exploration of what it means to be an artist.

If you could have anything you wanted, would you sell your soul for it?

ALICE IN WRITERLAND provides a shocking inside view of a world where pompous literary agents, sleazy managers and high-priced creative writing workshops have created an industry that is less interested in pursuing talent and more concerned with ripping off hopeful writers.

If following your dreams meant giving up everything you held dear, would you still do it?

Elisa Hategan started out as a debt-ridden poet who knew absolutely nothing about the publishing industry. On a whim, she applied for and won a scholarship to a prestigious creative writing program. Within a year she had transformed from complete newbie to professional writer, winning multiple art grants and being accepted to the most prestigious MFA program in the country. Better yet, she had the perfect agent and a manuscript that caught the attention of a Big Six publisher.

And then, somewhere along the way, it all went terribly wrong.

Elisa Hategan’s Alice in Writerland: A Writer’s Adventures in the Ugly World of Publishing is the heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant story of one woman’s attempt to make it as an author, all the while trying to figure out what that really means in the 21st century.

Posted in artist, books, canada, canadian literature, culture, depression, freedom, inspiration, life, literature, manuscript, media, MFA, news, perseverence, press, press release, publishing, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Norway’s attacks – debunking the terrorist myth

Posted by E on July 23, 2011

Since September 11, 2001, most people’s image of a terrorist has been that of an extremely religious, Muslim, bearded man with a burning hatred for the West. The reality of home-grown, white extremist groups and fringe left or right-wing nutcases has been relegated to the dusty corners of our consciousness. Despite the Oklahoma City bombing, despite the skinheads who marched on the streets of Toronto and London, Molotov cocktails in hand, Swastika banners in hand, we refuse to believe that a terrorist could be one of our own – not a Muslim, not a brown-skinned immigrant, but someone born and raised here.

Today Norway struggles with a momentous tragedy in its history – the bombing of a government building in Oslo and a savage massacre that took the lives of at least 80 youths in a Labour Party youth camp. The suspect – an Aryan-looking, blond and blue-eyed killer, well-known for his links to right-wing extremists, according to AFP sources.

We continue to have a heads-under-the-sand mentality in North America – that right-wing fanaticism doesn’t exist anymore, that violent skinheads and neo-fascists have been relegated to a harmless, inactive status, merely losers on Jerry Springer who garner a few laughs with their Klan-totting robes, but not much more a threat than that. And certainly NOT the types of people who can mobilize like Al-Queda, who can recruit alienated youth and train them to hate, and to kill.

When I was sixteen years old, I experienced first-hand the recruitment tactics of such a group. I witnessed more than a sixteen-year old should witness, and I testified against some very prominent neo-Nazis in open court. When the dust cleared, it became known that the white supremacist group I was being hunted by had been co-founded by an agent provocateur of the Canadian Intelligence Security Service (CSIS), our version of the CIA.

This man was provided funds to sustain this group, many of whose members travelled to Libya to meet with Moammar Gaddafi, who was at the time in the process of connecting various terrorist groups from across the world, funding and giving them access to secret training camps in the desert.

 

The fact that a government agent would have a hand in not only establishing, but fuelling a radical white supremacist group, provoked a temporary outrage in the Canadian public, but not a lasting drive for change. Within a few years, the entire story was forgotten. The former agent provocateur was relocated to another province, given a massive house in the suburbs and a generous allowance for another three years. For what amounts to teaching violent neo-Nazis how to terrorize innocent civilians, and how to smuggle guns over the border from the US. A government report came out that basically acknowledged that Operation Governor had been compromised by an “overzealous” source who might have gone “a little too far”, but nothing was ever done to bring those responsible to justice.

In fact, when I submitted my book for publication over the past year, comments ranged from the flippant to the entirely dismissive, as in the editor from Canada’s Douglas & McIntyre, who sent this rejection note: “I just feel like the issue of white supremacy has had its day, and it would take something more current for a book on this to break out.”

Just tonight, Norway’s Prime Minister, faltering before the press, answered the question “Is right-wing extremism a problem in this country?” with a wishful self-denying “No, we don’t have a big problem with right-wing extremists.” What? That’s after 92+ people have been murdered by a neo-fascist. But in his head, like in publishers and most journalists’ minds, when a Muslim kills, it’s an organized plot. When a neo-fascist kills, it’s one lone, crazy gunman. Nothing to really worry ourselves about.

To the establishment, terrorists have to be Islamic fundamentalists. Even if a Timothy McVeigh or Anders Behring Breivik pops up every few years and takes the lives of hundreds or thousands of people in the process. The fallacy of thought behind editorial boards and mass media is dismissive and shockingly small-minded. The reality is, even if a lone gunman is behind a massacre, there is an entire ideology of hatred behind him.

I suppose that soon I’ll have to list my book on Kindle, since there seem to be no interested publishers in New York who want to buy a novel based on this stuff (but they’d easily offer a million bucks to Kim Kardashian or Casey Anthony for a ghost-written memoir). I owe it to people to put this book out. I’ve received funding from Ontario and Canada arts councils for this project, and there are many of us who I believe it’s an important book since it depicts the step-by-step process of indoctrination of young people into radical terrorist groups.

But traditional publishers do not see my book as “commercial enough” (St Martins / Minotaur). Beyond the disappointment I have in the system, I genuinely wonder what Douglas & McIntyre, Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have to say tonight. I wonder if they really think a terrorist must have a Muslim face. That the subject of radical right-wingers is passé. Because if they do, they are very, very wrong. And Norway is paying the price for such a flawed assumption.

Posted in canada, commentary, crime, culture, europe, freedom, germany, literature, news, politics, press, publishing, war, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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 »

How to lose your faith in the publishing industry in a minute and a half…or less

Posted by E on May 29, 2011

It was about eight years or so, give or take a couple of months, when my partner invited me to a friend of hers’ cottage party. I’d been to plenty of those with my old varsity fencing team (where coaches and athletes got drunk and made out), so I didn’t think anything of it. Later that night I would feel ridiculously underdressed, having just realized that the so-called “cottage party” was really an assembly of über-wealthy people gathering in the most-done up fancy cottage I’d ever seen. A rustic mansion, if you will.

So, as I typically tend to do at the few cocktail parties I’ve ever attended, I stood in the corner pulling down on my short skirt and trying not to look too awkward as I sipped on my absurdly-expensive glass of Merlot – which probably cost less than my entire get-up. Alas, you get the point.

Then the hostess of this lavish banquet – which was spread out over a twenty-seat table setting, if you can imagine – came over, put her arm around my shoulders, and asked, “So I hear you’re a writer?”
I nodded, which prompted her to break into a smile as she said, “Well, then, I have to introduce you to one of my dear friends. His book is coming out imminently.”

Fast-forward a half hour later. I was sitting in the “Lodge” part of the mansion, a glorious spectacle of exposed brick and a rustic fireplace that went up twenty feet, across from a bespectacled middle-aged man smiling benevolently at me as he knocked back his Merlot faster than you could say “publishing deal.”
This was it, the eager young writer in me thought. My chance to glean a few words of wisdom from this self-professed self-help guru. I leaned forward, my eyes glowing with adoration, and asked him with bated breath what all of us unpublished writers really want to know, “How did you do it? How did you break out?”
My new friend leaned back in his overstuffed chaise, looked left and right conspiratorially, then met my eyes again.
“Well, first of all,” he started to say, pacing his words out evenly, slowly, no doubt enjoying the act of stretching out the anticipation of a seemingly-vapid twenty-something, “you’ve gotta do your homework. You’ve gotta get yourself an agent. Not just any agent, but a Jew agent. I did my homework and made a list of a couple dozen Jew agents in New York, and I targeted them specifically. Those New York Jews, they’re connected to everybody, they know everybody. So I persisted until I got the best agent, and like I said, I made sure she was a Jew agent, a real shark. That’s the most important part.”
He took another sip while I tried to digest the information. Then he dropped another bombshell.
“She told me all you need is a good title and a gimmick. You don’t even have to write the book.”
I nearly dropped my glass. “W-what? I thought you had to finish a manuscript….”
My friend shook his head vehemently. “No, no, that’s just for amateurs. No, in this business, all you need in a catchy title that can be spun off into a dozen books. She got on the phone with her editor contacts and already got me multiple book deals. Get this, I hadn’t even written more than the first couple of chapters.”
“B-but… how can they do that?”
He chuckled, delighting in my shock. “They’ve got their own writers, my dear. Their own in-house writers. They don’t need you to write the book. All you need is a platform and a gimmicky title – and of course, a Jew agent – and you’re set.”

This was the night I “woke up” when it came to the publishing industry, the moment of personal nadir when I lost my childish naiveté about how things really work. Before that, I thought that in order to get published, all you had to do was write a brilliant book. And then I came face-to-face with someone who was to hit stardom within a few months, and who had done little, if nothing, for it. Not just that, but whose attitude about Jews made me uncomfortable.

I knew then that there are other factors at work in an author’s success, and that luck, rather than simply talent, plays a huge part in it. In the last eight years, I’ve shared this story with a lot of close friends and aspiring writers who believe in “the system.” Not that I don’t, of course. But there’s something flawed, I think, in a process that allows someone to skyrocket to best-selling stardom and have “his” book(s) translated into 30 languages when they’ve done not a hell of a lot, other than come up with, yes, a catchy title. Of course, this man enjoys his success, and how can I blame him? But personally, I think I would have a slight twinge of guilt, a modicum of personal discomfort, in representing a franchise that I didn’t even write or create.
But to each his own, I guess.

Posted in agent, art, artist, books, bullshit, publishing, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »