An Evening with Author and Speaker Joanna Penn

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I shamelessly stole this image of Joanna signing the famous Kobo author board from Mark Leslie.

Joanna Penn has some writing secrets she wants to share with authors. Not so much a secret, as this author, speaker and entrepreneur shares advice to aspiring and established authors through her website, The Creative Penn. I had the opportunity to see Joanna, writer-in-residence for Kobo Writing Life, speak last night at a reception at Kobo headquarters in Toronto, part of a series of speakers offered to authors through Kobo’s platform, Kobo Writing Life.

I’ve been following Joanna for a few years now, when I first ventured into the self-publishing world. Joanna had already encountered many of the mistakes that first time authors often make, and shared it through her blog launched in 2008 that boasts a thousand posts, podcast and YouTube channel and Twitter feed with over 37,000 tweets and almost 50,000 followers.
With very little marketing know-how, and before the launch of Kindle and Kobo and other digital book formats, Joanna printed 2000 copies of her first non-fiction book back in 2008, selling a meagre 100 copies with the rest going into landfill.

She’s come a long way since then, her novels selling 100,000 copies, and with the combination of her book sales, and public speaking engagements. She was able to leave her soul sucking career and make a living from what she enjoys most: writing.

Last year, Joanna launched her new non-fiction book, How To Market Your Book, a how to guide for self-published and traditionally published authors. Her lecture consisted of key points from her book. There’s no magic bullet, so it seems, and as many other authors have mentioned before, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Here are some key points she made in last night’s presentation:

• Build a platform. When Joanna first started out, she didn’t have a blog and or Twitter account. While she has many social media accounts including Facebook and Google+, she puts most of her efforts into Twitter, her podcast and YouTube.
• Go direct where possible rather than using an aggregator.
• Give first before you expect to get back. Attend conventions to network with other authors rather than trying to push your book. Building relationships is an important part of the business.
• Market. Do a tiny bit every day if possible or every week. It takes time to build your platform.
• Have an email list. It’s global and the best way to reach your audience. If you don’t have an email list, use someone else’s. (See the next point)
• Launch a podcast or YouTube channel where you interview authors in your own genre. The authors will link back to your podcast and you will in turn get their readership. Over time this will build up to a significant following.
• Write what you love, not what you think is popular and share it with readers who love the same thing.
• Like any business, you have to spend money to make money. While you can make your own work better to a point, you should hire a professional editor/proof reader and cover designer. Do the marketing yourself.

I’d like to thank Joanna, who took time out of a personal visit to Toronto, for giving us the opportunity to hear her speak and even have the opportunity to have a short one-on-one with each of the attendees. As well and as usual, Jodi White of Kobo for inviting me, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo for organizing the whole dark thing and all of the fellow authors I had the opportunity to meet and even shared your journeys with me. I learned a lot!

I look forward to your next engagement. HL.

Love and Cola Wars Free Download

In honour of Canada Day’s 147th birthday, that’s July 1st in my country, I am offering a free download from Kobo or You Heart Books of my Young Adult satirical novel, Love and Cola Wars.  It’s available for 5 days only: Monday, June 30th to Friday, July 4th.  Download here: KOBO  or You Heart Books (MOBI or ePub)

Here’s what a few book bloggers had to say:

Without a doubt my inner teen-aged girl is still squee-ing obsessively over Vincente. His insecurities made Vincente extremely accessible and I liked the turnabout of seeing a vulnerable teen guy suffering from self esteem issues for a change. I Read That Book

I enjoyed that it portrayed Vincente feeling the same way a girl would feel in that situation, because personally I feel that guys are portrayed with emotions but none where the boy feels shy or like he won’t be good enough, so I like how Vincente was more “real”. Chelsea’s Reading Adventures

…this fictional world everything is sponsored from Coke and Pepsi High School to Microsoft University and these affiliations divide the world in a very strict manner. These rigid commercial castes, if you will, are a potent illustration of our own society’s stratified structure. I have no idea if any of this was intentional on the part of the author but I was struck by the way this sociological lesson was presented in a vivid and relateable manner. The Tattered Thread

As always, happy reading.  HL.



No Better Promotion Than Writing, says novelist Hugh Howey


Can I have a moment to read the paper?

You can call him a hybrid author, but he prefers indy-author, and while agents and publishers still have a role to play above and beyond self-publishing, he’s the one behind the scenes who’s peddling that bike. That was one of just many things Hugh Howey, American author of Dust, Wool and a slew of other books had to say today at a luncheon / interview. The event was hosted at Kobo HQ in Toronto and the interview conducted by Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo Writing Life. As a member of Kobo Writing Life, I had the unique opportunity to attend the event, that, and I was one of 50 attendees that RSVP’d in time.

Sitting on a small stage with Mark, Hugh was exactly as I imagined: affable, warm and funny. He was at ease in front of the small audience, his vivid blue eyes highlighted by his lightly tanned skin and pale blue shirt. Mark directed the questions, inquiring about Hugh’s early days as a writer and successes as an author, which perhaps surprising to some audience members, were almost 20 years in the making.

Hugh tells us how he wrote his very first novel at twelve, a rip-off of Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. He was often in trouble at school – reading books under his desk, daydreaming and even fibbing to teachers. Like so many aspiring writers, he’d begin writing a novel, just to leave it unfinished.

Hugh had a range of odd jobs over the years: book seller and book critic, roofer, a/v installer and even a boating career. That’s where he met his wife, who beckoned him to shore and became a champion of his writing and eventually his editor too. But this burning desire to be a writer never left him, and when he determined that he would complete a manuscript and give himself ten years to build a writing career, that’s when it all began to happen.

Hugh describes that all of that frustration that was built up over the years, came flooding out of him at once, giving him a 79,000 word manuscript and after fleshing it out some more, had a 100,000 word novel. His wife and mother were completely on board with him, becoming his first readers and eventually his editors.

By the way Hugh speaks of his family, it sounds like they have been nothing but loving and supportive. Friends and family did pressure him to be with a big publisher, but he wasn’t as comfortable with all that.

Hugh tells us, that while meeting with a smaller publisher to sign his first book deal, he felt sick to his stomach and even to this day he can remember that feeling of handing over that control. While that arrangement was a positive one in the end, Hugh states that he was a high maintenance client, wanting some creative control over fonts ad covers, even offering to do the work himself.

In one funny anecdote, he describes how upon visiting his home town, his father wanted to arrange book signings at the local Starbucks, his father’s measure of success perhaps being that Hugh could be a millionaire from his writing. That wasn’t as important to Hugh, who measured his own success from the fans and setting a personal goal of 5000 sales and writing two books a year for the next ten years. He just wanted to write.

When Mark asks Hugh what his favourite book is, he tells us Izombie, a cathartic work that blends the themes loss of free will and the 911 event. On Amazon he has this warning: Not fit for human consumption. Hugh tells Mark that he prefers complex and darker characters.

Hugh can only ponder on the future of publishing; perhaps a celebration of the union between writers and readers. Publishers are not his concern, although he has made some key recommendations to their future success. Whether they heed his advice is of no concern to him. His priority is the author followed closely by the readers, for without authors we can have no readers. His future would also celebrate the editors, beta-readers, cover artists, audio-book narrators and all of the other talented individuals, maybe even becoming house hold names in their own right.

What my favourite part of the entire interview was Hugh explaining how he became known amongst his many fans. He had been “writing in obscurity” for years when as a student, word started to spread around college campus that he was a writer. He never said, “Hey, I’m a writer!” but preferred, “Hey, I’m writing.” So when someone would find out that he wrote books, they were curious as to why he never told them and that peaked their interest. Social media and marketing holds little interest to him except as a way to speak to fans and in his own words he says, “There is no better promotion than writing.”

At the end of the interview and Q & A, Hugh met with writers and audience members. I was fortunate enough to have a quick chat with him before he was escorted away by an anxious P.R. person. I hope he enjoys his visit to Toronto and comes back soon.

Booktrack. To boldly go where no book has gone before.



Booktracks_Love and Cola Wars

Last year I wrote a blog post called What’s all the noise about Audiobooks? while exploring new platforms for self-published authors. The main issue that many authors such as myself encountered were twofold: creation and distribution.

This weekend I discovered an entirely new platform that sets up no barriers to any and all authors. Booktrack, soundtracks for books, is an entirely new platform that while some others from what I understand have tried to accomplish but only Booktrack has been able to do well.

Like audio books, it allows readers to be immersed into a story by adding a soundtrack that might include a score, ambience and sound effects. The service is free for both the reader and the authors or you can choose from a library of public domain source material. The books can be read on a PC or Mac (Chrome is the preferred browser) and hand-held devices like a tablet or iPhone.


Cut and paste your text.

To test out the platform, I used a sample of text from my YA novel Love and Cola Wars. I didn’t watch the tutorial, but the platform was pretty intuitive that I was able to navigate it quite easily. It is a simple, three step process: add text, add sound, and publish. Since I had already written my story, I just cut and paste it right into the window, but you can also write it in directly too.


Lay in your music and audio tracks.

Then I added sound. That was the fun part. You can choose from a large catalogue of music, background ambience or effect OR upload your own original music or sounds. You might find some limitations in the selections, but I’m sure as the company grows, so will its catalogue.

Layering the tracks was awesome. At one point, I had as many as five tracks in one section. With the tracks, it’s possible to fade in and out, cross fade and raise or lower sound levels. I ran into a few issues with creating dips, although I did manage to find some work around for that.

The longer I worked at it, the smoother and more realistic my tracks became.


Add a book cover and engaging blurb and then publish!

A three chapter sample took me approximately 5-6 hours to complete, so for a full length novel, it would probably be at least 40-60 hours to complete for an average novel but could be upward of 100 hours.

Since the service is free for readers, many authors in the Booktrack library included only samples of their full length novels, while others posted short stories and single chapters of new works. There’s a full selection of genres including suspense, horror, romance, fan-fiction, classics (open source) and young adult. I noticed an absence of erotica – that would certainly open it up to a whole new market!

On the booktrack’s site, there is mention that in the future, authors will be able to sell their work but for now, it can be a powerful marketing tool. Currently, readers can rate your booktrack, leave comments and share your booktrack.

You know great things are coming when super self-published author Hugh Howey has attached himself to it by offering up a sample of his latest novel Sand and a contest tie in for fans for his short story Half Way Home. Read more about what he has to say on his own website.

A few authors and readers have already poo-pooed the idea, wanting their books unfettered and free of technology. Who ever thought that we would be reading books on an e-reader or a PC or listening to it on an MP3 player or in our car. This technology, in my mind, has nowhere to go but up. So my final question is, when will Apple or Amazon buy up Booktrack and make the developers stinking rich?

Two Blogger Love and Cola Wars Giveaways and a Review!


Here is a lovely review I received this week from book blogger Pepper Pot at I Read That Book.  You can read her review about her thoughts on Love and Cola Wars.

style_headerKarielle at Books a la Mode is featuring an interview with me about Love and Cola Wars and offering a great giveaway: a signed copy of Love and Cola Wars and an Enrique Iglasias Greatest Hits CD seen here:

Enrique Iglesias Greatest Hits

Finally, one of my delightful beta readers on Love and Cola Wars is also offering a fun giveaway at her site The Bookworm’s Blog: A copy of Love and Cola Wars + a summer tote filled with mani/pedi items.  Just the thing for summer!  Check out her blog here and how you can enter to win.

Thanks for reading and good luck!




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