ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Self-Publishing 2.0: How I Saved My Book

Never believe people when they tell you something is impossible, or “that’s not the way things work.” Make your own success or be doomed to fail.

It was this author’s dream. After writing a deeply personal and revealing memoir, The Last Day of My Life, I landed a top agent at the esteemed William Morris Agency (now WME Entertainment). Six months later, I had my first publishing deal and less than a year after that, the book was officially released. Publishing takes a long time, but the wait was worth it. I had hoped that my book would inspire others who were facing troubling times in their lives and I have been humbled by the many emails I have received from strangers who reached out to me since the January publication date.

Then, the unthinkable happened. My publisher abruptly closed its doors at the end of April. The timing could not have been worse. It was just days before the LA Festival of Books, where I had been scheduled to appear. My participation in that event was canceled and it looked like months of effort in landing numerous television and radio appearances and all the print interviews had been for nothing. My old publisher was gracious enough to grant me a reversion of all the rights to my book, along with all the digital files, but what was I to do with them?

“It’s over,” I was told, by most everyone. But I had heard that before. After writing the manuscript for my book, I was told that getting published today was all but impossible. I refused to listen then and I refused to listen now. As Chief Correspondent for the syndicated television news magazine, Inside Edition and as a regular contributor for CNN and HLN and frequent guest host for Larry King Live, I knew that I could continue to land television appearances. I also believed passionately in the message of my book — that no matter what challenges come your way, life is worth living and there is plenty for which we need to be grateful. What better time to put that into practice than here and now?

I reached out to the former head of sales at my old publishing house for guidance. He connected me with both the company which had originally printed my book and with the independent sales team that sold it to stores. My former editor instructed me on how to apply for and secure a new serial number (ISNB) and Library of Congress registration. I hired a talented graphic designer to repackage the book and I came up with a name for my own publishing house: Incognito Books. Within two months, I was “ready for my close-up” again. I timed the launch of my new edition to coincide with an appearance on Dr. Phil, which I had taped in April, but was not airing until July 9. My boss at Inside Edition graciously ran a story about that appearance and on my newly launched book as well. The results exceeded even my wildest expectations.

As I tracked both Amazon and Barnes and Noble sales numbers throughout the day, I watched in amazement over what happened as both shows aired in the various time zones across the country. It was remarkable. By Friday evening, I had hit #1 on Amazon’s “Movers and Shakers” list with an astounding increase of 309,000% in ranking, from number 80,000 to number 31. I also reached #17 on I have already ordered a second printing and I am launching the book in all available digital formats in the next two weeks.

I am still at the beginning of what I hope is a long journey as a writer, both for this title and other books I hope to write. Still, I learned a valuable lesson — never take “no” for an answer. The old publishing model is no longer the only one available to writers. (The Huffington Post proves that.) Look hard and be creative and you may just discover a new way to get your message out there. (Huffington Post)

Jim Moret’s firsthand account of self-publishing his debut memoir is a timely illustration of the shift underway in the publishing world. When the “old publishing model” imploded, Moret sidestepped the debris and leaped forward. Once upon a not too recent time the Gutenberg Paradigm was the whole game. Lose the game, and you might well have lost your chance at the season. But the new publishing models emerging every day are opening up possibilities heretofore unimaginable. And Moret’s experience is an encouraging reminder that persistence and ingenuity will pay dividends to good writers willing to explore new and creative ways of connecting with their readers/audience.

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A Flâneur’s Tour of Toronto

It’s a at least a pair of decades since I explored Toronto, and I’ll admit a bit of embarrassment on this front. It’s a day’s drive away, and a pleasant drive at that. I’ve added it to the short term bucket list, with ample time for flânerie. Until then, two delightful nubbins to pass along…

“A flâneur is anyone who wanders, and watches, the city. The 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire called the flâneur a “perfect idler” and a “passionate observer.” Baudelaire was a flâneur himself and, when he wasn’t writing poems and spending his trust fund on dandy outfits and opium, he drifted through the streets of Paris. Later, philosopher Walter Benjamin collected a chunk of thoughts on the idea of the flâneur in his epic volume of notes on Paris, The Arcades Project.” (Eye Weekly)

“The old notion of the flâneur will be different for whomever engages in this activity, even in a diverse metropolis such as Toronto. But that doesn’t mean that other flâneurs can’t carve out ways to navigate the city comfortably, recording their own insights and noticing the ways their own particular bodies and histories interact with the cityscape.” (Eye Weekly)

Working, Playing, Both

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.” ~ James A. Michener

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Digitisation and its Discontents

Stuck in a time warp (image via The Economist)
The Beatles (Photo credit: The Economist)

The band of analogue holdouts is gradually dwindling. Because they are so few and so large, the holdouts are valuable: any technology firm that can persuade the Beatles to go digital will reap fat rewards. Theft provides another stimulus. All the analogue holdouts are widely available online—just not legally. That seems to be persuading even Harry Potter to look more closely at digital distribution. As Neil Blair of the Christopher Little agency, which represents J.K. Rowling, admits, holding the books back from e-readers “is not the best strategy for combating piracy”. (The Economist)

The Economist’s July 22 look at media’s analogue holdouts such as “the Beatles, Harry Potter, Bella magazine and the grizzled crew of the Northwestern, an Alaskan crab-fishing boat”. These “digital resisters refuse to distribute over the internet” at least in part because the financial view is decidedly more bleak than the analogue realm where they’re managing to endure. At least so far. Of course, pirated content circulates the net illegally, and this means that there is value being lost by not digitizing. Is the exodus from analogue to digital inevitable?

Write by Hand…on Your Computer!

Pilot Handwriting demonstration (via

This strikes me as a great first step, but one that’s not particularly enticing to me. On the other hand, if Pilot Handwriting could leap frog forward a couple of paces, I would be extremely interested. Here’s what I mean:

  • I’d like to be able to use a plugin for MSWord that would let me write and print in my own handwriting. Especially if image quality and print quality is good, this would be an amazing way to personalize correspondence.
  • I’d like to be able to use a plugin with Dragon Naturally Speaking or some other voice recognition software to transcribe dictation directly into printable notes. Just think of the thank you notes and letters you could catch up on while commuting!
  • I’d like to be able to have the new font I’ve created from my handwriting be available via online database so that I could blog in my handwritten font and have my reader’s browser call up the font and see my words as I’d have scribbled them on the back of a cocktail napkin.

How would you use a font derived from your own handwriting?

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Keyboard Fandango

Flying Fingers (Photo credit: The Hamster Factor)

Plenty of keyboard clatter of late, but less productive than I need to be. To Do lists remain long. The “I’ll get right to that” pile is growing. The Twitter chatter is excessive. Time to knuckle down and knock out an outline, another chapter, a running commentary for 15k+ photographs. So if I vanish from the blogosphere for a few days, please celebrate. If you find me back in the banter, remind me not-so-gently to get my posterior back to work.

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I Write. Gnomes Argue.

Like a persistent two year old throwing a tantrum, a chain saw whines and screams and subsides only to whine again a few minutes later. Angry. Testy. Persistent. Closer — outside my window — chimes cling and clong in the breeze. They dangle beneath an enormous ginkgo tree and emit pleasant music whenever the wind blows. Chain saw versus wind chimes. I try to organize my thoughts in digital scrawl, postulating, developing, concluding. Posting. Re-posting. Whine. Cling. Scream. Clong. A garbage truck thunders past, doubling (tripling?) the thirty mile per hour speed limit. Then a slow car. Another. Then quiet except for the crinkle-strain-crinkle-strain of the palm paddles on the ceiling fan above my head. Type. Click, click, click. The ferry rumbles, reversing its engines to slow its momentum as it glides into the dock where it will disgorge motorcycles, cars, trucks that will parade past my window. Think. Type. Post.

Have you ever heard of I Write Like? I stumbled upon it this morning and my curiosity was peaked. Briefly. I scribbled out these few descriptive lines and hit the analyze button.

Instantly, the page refreshed with a verdict: I write like Cory Doctorow. Really? I’ve never read anything by Cory Doctorow. Nor am I confident that this little writing sample can offer much basis for comparison.

But I am intrigued. How does the analysis work? A bunch of bookwormish gnomes under the hood reading and arguing about style?

“What? He opens with a simile? Chuck him!”

“Yeah, give him a 404 page. He ain’t got no style…”

“Wait a minute, Clyde. Not so quick. Check out the imagery. Doesn’t that remind you of somebody?”

“Yeah, and that onomatopoeic ointment reminds me of moldy Cheeze Whiz. Sort of like that guy… What’s his name?”

“Nah, you guys have got it all wrong. It’s the rhythm. That’s the key. Trust a woman! You guys don’t know rhythm from spasm.”

“Oh, yeah? ‘Twas brillig, baby, and this slithy tove did ooze some ugly prose. Just try to tell me about rhythm, Tanya”

“Mel, you’re sooo lame, and you don’t even realize it! Anyway, you know who we’re gonna say?”




“Cory Doctorow.”

“You mean the guy who wrote For the Win?”

“Bingo, genius.”

“Are you kidding? Doctorow rocks! Did you ever readMakers?”

“Totally. That was killer!”

“Right, and this slacker sho ain’t no Cory Doctorow!”

“Sorry, boys, you’re out of time. I’ve just reloaded the page for him. You snooze, you lose.”

“Oh, my gawd. Look at him. He’s all puffed up and proud. Yuck!”

“He’s probably going to go brag about it, blog about it, tweet about it… Our cred is shot!”

“What cred?”

Are you intrigued? Do you write like Michael Ondaatje? Mario Vargas Llosa? Go ahead and find out. Start a gnome fight at I Write Like.

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Ryu Murakami Bypasses Publishers, Opts for IPad

Are you familiar with Ryu Murakami? He’s a successful, established Japanese novelist, and he’s breaking away from the heard with his next novel, A Singing Whale. Although he’s still ironing out the details for an ink and paper edition, he’s releasing the digital version directly to his audience via Apple’s iBookstore, “circumventing his traditional publisher in the process…

Murakami’s project should be hailed less as a blow against the monopoly of big publishing houses over authors and the circulation of their work, and more as a celebration of the kinds of opportunities that devices like the iPad can provide for creativity and cost-efficient distribution.

Other authors are, however, dispatching more direct challenges to the traditional publishing industry model by signing deals directly with e-book retailers, rather than through their publishers. This spring, bestselling suspense novelist Stephen King released his latest work, Blockade Billy as an e-book one month before releasing the hardcover version in the U.S. and Canada, and published a short story, “UR,” exclusively for the Kindle in February 2009. Other prominent American writers have also sold the e-book rights to past and current work exclusively to Amazon. (

Wall Street Journal blogger, Yoree Koh, explains that the release and rapid adoption of Apple’s iPad has fueled a world of worry among old guard publishing industry heavyweights who “have feared the worst: thatprecious big-name authors might sign directly with e-book retailers, relegating the old-school publishers as the dispensable middleman.”

Let the nightmare begin. Novelist Ryu Murakami… replaced the publishers with a software company to help develop the e-book titled “A Singing Whale,” or “Utau Kujira” in Japanese. The digital package will include video content and set to music composed by Academy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto… Mr. Murakami’s decision is the latest step taken by well known authors in re-writing the business model of the publishing industry… [By] offering fresh material only in an electronic format, Mr. Murakami’s plan has basically removed the traditional book publisher from the calculation entirely. (Wall Street Journal)

Obvious growing pains will follow such a bold move, but this as an inevitable and exciting evolution as the publishing industry moves away from the Gutenberg Paradigm toward a more audience-centric publishing model. I see this transition not so much as a challenge, but rather as a reminder that content can easily and quickly be packaged into engaging, innovative, multi-modal, portable and user friendly formats. Vook, iBookstore, Kindle and others are leading the innovation, while the lumbering dinosaurs sit by and grumble.

Why? Catch up. Surpass. Imagine an even sexier future! Paper and ink publishing is grand. Aesthetically pleasing, nostalgic, luxurious and enduring in a fragile sort of way. All true. I love books. And they’re here to stay, though their production will not continue to be the primary vessel for publishing content. They’ll likely become a specialty item. Electric format books offer outstanding financial benefits, distribution benefits, and creativity benefits. The biggest challenge will be to storytellers and content providers. It’s time for us to begin dreaming up the next frontier of storytelling, and Ryu Murakami’s A Singing Whale is just the inspiration we need. It’s time to liberate words from their bindings, time to let them soar and dance!


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Are Kindle EBooks the New Standard?

Mike Cane has posted a link to the press release posted by Amazon earlier today announcing that is now officially selling more Kindle ebooks than hardcover books. You heard right! With month over month sales growth in the second quarter, the Kindle device seems to have reached a tipping point for growth. (Note that Amazon is distinguishing hardcover sales from all print book sales, but this is a significant step nevertheless.)

There is just one stat that needs to be called out of that press release:

“On July 6, Hachette announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle books.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me. James Patterson is like the McDonald’s or Coca-Cola of mass fiction. If he sold most of his books in Kindle format, that settles it.

It would be interesting to know how many of these digital sales result in full readings. I suppose consumers have always overbought, anticipating that they’ll get through an extensive backlog of reading. But I bet there’s a shift with digital consumption. Less likely to buy now, read later? More likely to buy now, read later?

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Allen Ginsberg: The Movie

Allen Ginsberg movie preview (via

I’m ready… Bring it on!

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