My 4 Favorite Writer’s Resources


I’ve slapped together this blog post for my writer’s group in Saskatoon, so there’s probably nothing new here if you’ve been trying to get published for a while.

Anyhoo, back when I started this whole “getting published” gig, in the days when there was no Internet and dinosaurs walked the earth, the only writing resource that one could find was this brick building called a library. And all the books on writing were reference volumes, so you couldn’t borrow them. I’d take a notepad and pull the thick writer’s market book off the shelf to spend hours flipping through the pages trying to find out the intricacies of getting the terrible, awful, crummy bad stuff I’d typed on my typewriter out to the mystical magical world of sweet publishing legitimacy.

Thank the Gods those days are over. There is so much incredible writer resource stuff online that you can easily spend days flipping through the hundreds of websites, blogs, guides, web forums, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts that are out there. So, which places did I peruse (and still lurk)? Here’s my list in no particular order.

1) Absolute Write Forums: Yeah, that place. Specifically, the Bewares and Background Checks forum. There you will find first-hand experience with publishers and agents, who is accepting submissions, who isn’t and most importantly, who to avoid. There’s the usual web-forum drama and I swear, there is no force on earth stronger than Absolute Write member’s hatred for the soul sucking entity known as Publish America.  This place needs to be your starting point on your journey because the forum has been a fixture for newbie writers since like … well, forever. Its sheer volume of content means there’s a pretty damned good chance that anyone who is anyone in publishing has a thread about them. Do check it out – actually, bookmark it.

2) Preditors and Editors: Again, massive content on who is who and who you should run like hell from in the way of agents and publishers. This is another Internet oldie but a goodie, and a damned fine public service to anyone who is seriously thinking about throwing their project out the publishing gods in hope of sweet, juicy, publishing manna. (It’s been a must-visit site since 1997, people. They’ve been sued, they’ve been pilloried and they’re still helping writers every single day.)

3) Agent Query: Another fine resource that will help you learn a little bit about the agents that are out there and what they’re looking for. And listen, if you’re going to query an agent, for crying out loud please read their submission guidelines. Agents are mond0-busy and don’t have time to screw around with people who can’t read a sentence on a website.

4) Pub Rants: Literary agent Kristen Nelson is one of the most sought-after agents out there and for good reason: she knows what the hell she’s talking about and her agency has this habit of selling really damned good books. Oh … she’s been blogging since 2006 and in February of this year, moved her blog to my first linky. But she’s kept seven year’s worth of stuff on the old blog alive and well. Here’s the link. Do check it out, and do pay close attention to her annual post wherein Kristen provides the statistics for that year – from the number of queries to the number of requests to the number of offers to the number of deals. That annual blog post alone will give you a clear indication as to how freaking hard it is to get an agent and a book deal.

Honorable mentions:

a) Your favorite author’s blog. Seriously. If there’s an author you love to read, they likely have a blog. Google them and find it because every published author that I know of has a blog and is always posting yummy authorly advice for you to chew on. (Sort of like this blog post)

b) Twitter: I cannot stress enough how amazing this resource is – so long as you actually use it as a resource and not a distraction to your writing.  Literary agents are on there. Publishers too. And they offer free advice in 140 characters or less but for crying out loud, don’t query an agent on Twitter. It pisses them off and they will inform Planet Earth that people who query them on Twitter don’t get very far.


Autumn Contest – Send Me Your Pictures of the Season!


Why yes, I do love autumn. It’s my favorite time of the year largely because of the fact that I relate the season to the happiest times of my childhood. Where I grew up in Northern Ontario, well, it was just colour, colour, colour ..,. everywhere. There was a wooden bridge over the train tracks on Eva Street and I used to love how it would frost over. Each morning I would skid across that bridge, determined to slip along further than I did the day before. And all around me were houses decked out in a celebration of the season – decked out, meaning massive piles of leaves waiting to be bagged. And Canadian Thanksgiving is at the start of October – who doesn’t love a good Turkey dinner. Of course my birthday is October 7th, so you know … cake and free stuff!  (I am turning 46 this year. I’m not so crazy about my birthday nowadays.)

Living now on the Canadian prairie (which is where I’ve lived most of my life) well, autumn is a crap shoot. In Eastern Canada you can count on getting at least two months out of the season before getting hammered with snow. Here in Saskatchewan, we get snow sometimes crazy early. Last year we had snow on October 10th and it stayed until April. I think I like autumn even more now, living on the prairie, because it is so fleeting. And this year the weatherman says we can expect snow in early October … again. GAH!

So I need your help! I want to live vicariously through a photo gallery of pictures that readers have emailed me. Send me a nice autumn scene that you’ve snapped a shot of with your smartphone and I’ll post the pictures throughout the next few weeks along with details about where you took the picture and even you, if you like. Email your pictures to info AT sean DASH cummings DOT ca. 

Round about the end of October, I’m going to pick three winners and send them a signed copy of my latest, STUDENT BODIES. And don’t forget to email me your address in case you win!

So … help a guy out who might be buried in snow in a matter of days. Autumn is the paint by number season – so many colours and for a melancholy guy like me, so many memories.



Meanwhile at Goodreads and other Shrillness



A quick update from last week’s post about the author/blogger relationship. Bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch (whose Peter Grant series is absolutely brilliant) last week Tweeted that he reserves the right to comment on any review or discussion of his work in any open blog or forum, … well, now he’s out. Entirely:

I hereby resign from SFF fandom, or whatever its called. From now on I shall no longer particpate or even take any notice of fan discussions about my work or, indeed, SFF in general. Once my current commitments have expired I will cease to part in general panels at conventions except to discuss the art and craft of writing or to answer questions about projects I’m related to.
I liked being a fan, I liked taking part in forums and conventions, I liked discussing issues and writing and the things I felt passionately about but I just can’t be bothered to put up this shit.


This. Sucks. Big. Time. I’ve read his comments on Twitter and over on this Book Smuggler’s blog  post. I think he’s been courteous, respectful and polite. I don’t think he should have commented on the review, though.  Anyway, I love the guy’s books – hate the way the discussion went full-throttle flaming monkey poo.

Meanwhile over at Goodreads, more shrill monkey pooness. The social media site last Friday decided to do something (or be seen to be doing something) about reviews that go after authors as opposed to just plain ol’ reviews of an author’s books. They’ve got a hand-dandy new set of policies and an unknown percentage of the Goodreads community is losing its collective shit over the move. The word censorship is being used in pretty much 90% of the comments and even if the new policy is boneheady, it ain’t censorship. Goodreads/Amazon/Skynet own the infrastructure for people to post reviews. They can do what they want, when they want, as often as they want and without even telling members … if they want.  Sort of how like moderators of web forums can freeze your access or blog owners can delete your comments if they wish. It is, as they say, what it is.

Will people move over to Librarything or another book reviewing social media site? Some will, but I’m pretty sure Goodreads is going to be around for a while.

Me? I’m still hoping Planet Earth experiences a solar flare that will destroy the Internet/the electrical grid, smartphones and anything with a microprocessor. (It will save publishing, too. Just sayin’)  People living in the 1860’s didn’t have the time to live out the drama associated with book reviewing/social networking/author-blogger angst.

Anywhoo … too bad about Aaronovitch. I’m going to start the next Peter Grant book tonight.


My Thoughts on Author/Blogger Angst and Social Media Drama



This has been a drama-filled week on the Internets. Lots of stuff on Twitter linking to a couple of blog posts with comments that kicked up a hornet’s nest of good ol’ social media angsty yumminess. The Internets loves a good viral shit storm and without going into too much detail here’s what’s happened:

We all know about the STOP THE GOODREADS BULLIES website and that simmering heap of insanity

Last month, bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch commented on a review of his book over at The Book Smugglers and that ignited a massive controversy which still froths and bubbles away on Twitter. Aaronovitch this week Tweeted that he reserves the right to comment on any review or discussion of his work in any open blog or forum, so, you know, he’s not backing down.

There was this posting over at Strange Horizons website that is still being talked/argued about all over the Interwebs.

Two weeks ago, former rock star literary agent and now author Nathan Bransford got steamrolled in a poop storm about this post the STOP THE GOODREADS BULLIES dealio. 

So I’m not going to offer any miracle insights into why there is much author/blogger angst and social media flare-uppyness other than to say that it’s probably going to continue to happen as the competitive thrusts of the book industry & the increased requirement for authors (who should be writing) to be taking on the lion’s share of the marketing of their books (which is really the publisher’s job) seems to create a fertile ground for social media brain melt.

Do I think authors should comment on blog reviews of their work? Nope. Do I agree that reviews are for readers and not authors? Nopey-nope. Authors are readers too. Do I think anyone is 100% right in this whole kerfuffle? Nope. I’d posted this over at Sons of Corax in the comment section:

1) If a blogger doesn’t want an author to post comments on a book review, put up a sign saying so.
2) If an author decides to post comments on a book review when the aforementioned sign is clearly visible, then he/she deserves to have flaming monkey poo thrown at him/her.
3) If a blogger is writing reviews for something like, say, Kirkus Reviews, they are part of the industry dynamic.
4) If a blog is taking part in a blog tour and hosting a giveaway, it’s promotional for the author and therefore, part of the industry dynamic.
5) 99.9999999999999% of Planet Earth doesn’t read blogs
6) 99.9999999999999% of the book buying public doesn’t read book blogs
7) Authors are basically neurotic and we all read our reviews, even when we say we don’t.
8) This kerfuffle wouldn’t be happening if there wasn’t so much emphasis on authors doing the lion’s share of book promotion when they should be, you know, writing books.
9) This is going to continue to happen. Just watch. Two weeks ago Nathan Bransford chimed in about GR bullying and a dog pile ensued:
10) Comment sections filled with bad behavior is nothing new. Flame wars exist every single day in the comments section of a gajillion blogs, forums, online media, newspapers, you name it.
11) The dynamic is such that “one must prove they are right” at all costs. The anonymity of not sitting in front of the person you disagree with promotes bad behavior on the part of both sides.
12) I have not seen any empirical evidence that shows a dramatic upturn in book sales because of book blogs that review – I could be wrong – but I just haven’t seen it.
13) Most book bloggers do it for funzies.
14) Many active bloggers want to be taken seriously as literary critics. Literary critics in traditional media have an editor, bloggers don’t. Chew on that one for a bit because part of the job of an editor is to call you on the quality of your writing as well as the context of what you are trying to convey.
15) I am going to get my umbrella now as I expect to wind up showered in flaming monkey poo.

Seeing as how 99.999999999% of humanity has never heard of book bloggers, Goodreads, etc, I suspect they would think we’re all batshit crazy if they knew about ALL. THIS. ANGST.

Let’s all be friends and move on … m’kay? We’re all struggling breathlessly trying to figure out this whole new digital age publishing paradigm that keeps changing on a daily basis. Social media is still a shiny new thing that everyone is trying to figure out and while author/blogger angst might make for some entertaining if not frustrating light social media reading when these flare-ups occur, we should all remember that we all love freaking books! We all have a stake in the success or failure of every book that gets published and right now the entire publishing industry is gasping for air over the sheer magnitude of what this new paradigm truly means and what the end-game of all this change will be.

Just, everyone chill out. We’re all on the same side here – we love books. We authors love bloggers. We love interacting with readers and I’m sure that bloggers love interacting with authors.  Frankly, the shrillness of the last two week’s events, the scale of the righteous indignation from both sides is a little bit staggering at times. Authors who comment on reviews of their work, do so at their peril. Bloggers who go apeshit when an author comments on a review aren’t doing book blogging any favors either.

Breathe, everyone. Now let’s get back to normalcy because the fact is, nobody wins when everyone is taking sides. Move on.

Peace out, yo. (As my son says.)


Meandering Thoughts About What Makes Books Sell


What makes a book sell? Is it cover art? Word of mouth? Glowing reviews on social media sites like Goodreads or Librarything? Is it getting the occasional blog post in The Huffington Post or Slate? Is it building a framework of fans and relying exclusively on their social networks via book blogs? Or is it a combination of everything I’ve mentioned plus a sprinkling of fairy dust for good measure? The short answer is nobody has a clue.

I’m serious. Readers are a fickle bunch and the marketplace has moved online, but let’s put the behemoth known as Amazon to one side and pretend it’s thirty years ago for a minute or two. Before the Internet we had bookstores and libraries. There were no blogs, Twitter was a spastic muscle reflex caused by sitting in an uncomfortable position for too long and Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even an itch in his father’s pants. How did we buy books back then and more importantly, why did some books sell and some didn’t?

The marketplace in those day was comprised exclusively of bookstores and here in Canada, we had tons of them. Growing up in Calgary, I used to frequent a number of bookstores because the notion of big box stores like Chapters/Indigo Books hadn’t been conceived of yet. In fact,  I’m getting emails from them now where they no longer recommend books for me to read. They’re now recommending kitchen gadgets and smelly candles.  Actually, here’s a screenshot of all the crap they now sell besides books.


I suppose this is a kind of poetic justice. I mean, if Chapters/Indigo could turn a profit as a place where you buy books and nothing more, I imagine they’d be doing that. The big box stores started killing off independent booksellers and now Amazon is killing off the big box stores. I don’t think Chapters/Indigo will be around in a few years  because, well, why should I want to buy anything listed in the above image from Chapters/Indigo when I can get it way cheaper at Walmart or Target? Moreover, I can definitely get a lot of the stuff they’re selling cheaper from Amazon as well! But back to bookstores of thirty years ago for a minute.

I do not once remember getting a flyer in the mail or seeing any advertising of any kind for the bookstores of my youth. I’m going to check with my 79 year old mum and see if she remembers advertisements for books but I think I already know the answer to that question. So, if there were thousands upon thousands of independent booksellers three decades ago, how in the world did they turn a profit? That’s a good question and I wish I knew the answer to it. Sure, there were some bookstores that went under, but I think you have to look at what kinds of competition those bookstores of yesteryear had for the public’s attention. Video games were a new thing, we didn’t have a 500 channel TV universe and again, the Internet was still fifteen years away.

So what made a book sell?  Newspapers were still a primary source of information for people – they still turned a profit thirty years ago. They had big book sections with thoughtful reviews. I imagine people didn’t deliberately buy a newspaper to read book reviews. I might read the funny pages and then when I flipped the page over, there was a book section with big headlines that might grab my attention.  Flash forward thirty years …  newspapers are dying along with their book sections. There are gazillions of book blogs nowadays but I suspect the vast majority of today’s book consumers don’t read blogs. (Sorry bloggers … you know I love you.)

Here’s a question: if the public liked to go to bookstores thirty years ago, do they now browse the aisles of Amazon like they would have in a bookstore? I mean, bookstores didn’t have search engines. As a matter of fact, if you go into a bookstore nowadays, (even Chapters/Indigo, if you can get past all the housewares they’re flogging) there are book sections: Thrillers, Mystery, Non-Fiction, Romance, Canadiana … you name it.

I honestly believe that book buying three decades ago was linked to browsing.  Book browsing was always a leisurely pursuit … I could easily spend a couple of hours in a bookstore just scanning the titles and cover art until something jumped out at me. You can browse online … but it’s really not the same, is it? I also remember that if my library didn’t have a copy of a book I’d heard was really good, then it would give me a reason to go to the bookstore and buy it for myself.

Oh and hey … if books were free at the library (and still are) why didn’t libraries of thirty years ago put booksellers out of business? I mean .. who can compete with free, right? Or nearly free. Amazon sells books way cheaper than anyone else on Planet Earth. They’re so successful because they made books about the price instead of about the book. I repeat: Amazon made books about the price instead of about the book. Think about that for a second.

The reason people buy anything is because of what I call “the consumer buying equation”. It’s as follows:

Benefit (what’s in it for me)

_____________     = Value (I am now buying because I see value)

Price (how much it costs)

In order for people to buy, they have to see value. The way that high end products (read: expensive) manage to sell is because they’re not selling product. They’re selling “what’s in it for me?” A high end car means that you’ve made it in life. A $5000 purse means that you have a $5000 purse when all your friends bought their purses at the mall for $300. You now belong to an exclusive club of people! Voila!

See … books are different because books aren’t product. But they are. But they’re not. Okay, books are goods and they’re not goods. I think Amazon figured that out early on. I think they managed to turn books into products along the same line as any other consumer product. Never mind that books (even shitty ones) are art. Forget about the fact that a book takes years to write and that any traditionally published book that Amazon lists represents a collaboration between author, agent and editor. There aren’t any factories where books are being pumped out off an assembly line like the Model T. No wait .. there is! It’s Amazon’s self publishing arm!

I don’t want to sound fatalistic about the industry. I think there will always be books for people to read. I just wish it wasn’t so damned hard to compete with Amazon these days. I wish Chapters/Indigo would stop trying to sell me toaster ovens and I wish that I didn’t have to spend so much time trying to get people to read my stuff. I wish that I could get a review in my local paper. I wish that I didn’t have to Tweet so much or blog so much or arrange blog tours and do giveaways to people because it’s obligatory on the part of an author to do these things. I wish I didn’t see the words “check out my book haul” from bloggers who seem more interested in talking about all the free shit they got from authors who are struggling to make a name for themselves every time I sign onto Twitter. I wish there wasn’t so much self published crap (yes there are some good self-pubbed books, but most is shit) that I have to compete with now on Amazon because Amazon are the only ones making money. (Flood the market with self published books and skim pennies off the millions that you sell because you own the infrastructure to sell the self published books.)  I wish there were bookstores to browse in my community. We’ve really only got a couple left here in Saskatoon. I wish that my agent didn’t have to work so hard and I wish that more people would just stop buying online and buy the way they did 30 years ago.

I also wish more people were reading books because I don’t think they are – at least not in my country – what about yours?

I do have a way to get more young people reading though. It involves pizza coupons. I would have read the Holy Bible when I was fifteen if it meant a free pizza. Why aren’t there pizza coupons in the back of YA books?

(I’m serious about pizza as a book promotion tool and will be doing an experiment to see if I’m not entirely insane … or desperate.)

Anyway … I’ll keep writing. Maybe one day I’ll strike gold, get new hair and a fur coat.

UPDATE: talking with bloggers online about this post has given me another idea – maybe independent bookstores could sponsor book browsing clubs at local schools. Then book discussion groups, pizza … just thinking outside the pizza box here.

UPDATE part Deux: This was brought to my attention by @cheffojeffo on Twitter: Genius Pizza Joint offers Free Slices in Exchange for Education.