Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category


How to be BOLD as a Writer…

January 6, 2018

IMG_2652What, me? Bold? Huh?

If, like me, you are a bit on the shy side, when someone says BE BOLD you go: Uh, no thanks. Why don’t you go be bold and meanwhile I’ll be over here on the couch reading a good book, ok?

That is my preferred response.

But when you are a writer you are, by definition, bold.

Boldness is built into the process.

Being a writer is an odd mix of solitude + introversion + creativity + stubbornness + boldness.

Here’s how you are bold as a writer.

1. When you write
When you sit down and pour out your ideas on paper/napkin/phone/laptop you are being bold.

This does not always seem obvious but every time you write it is an  act of self assertion. It is you saying: this idea matters to me and I am going to preserve it, shape it, design it and give it the space it deserves in the world.

Being creative requires that you be bold.

So you are bold whenever you decide to honour the voices within you and give them shape.

Recently I went through a few (agonizing) stretches of self silencing. And when those moments finally broke I felt like the hero in a movie finally climbing those steps/picking up the sword/squaring off against the enemy (in this case, self doubt).

Just making it up to the page and laying it down, making something or of nothing, is BOLDNESS.

2. When you share your work with others
Whenever you hand something over to another and say “I made this” there is vulnerability. Whenever you say: “this is my idea” or “this is what I think”, there is vulnerability. To face ones vulnerability, one must be BOLD.

Dealing with feelings of vulnerability  is a central aspect of being a writer. We tap into our intellect, empathy, experiences, imagination, and we take all that and magically weave it into something important to us.

When we share it, we risk the judgement of others.

This goes for everything from a tweet to a trilogy.

Once you put your words out there, they belong to the world. It’s in the hands of the audience and some might appreciate it but some might not. Some might not even care.

And so we also risk indifference.

Whenever there is RISK you need to be BOLD.

Whenever you put yourself out there, you are being BOLD.

3. Self promotion
Ugh! This is the tough one and I think for most writers this is what they think about when they think of being bold…

The moment when you really have to ‘put yourself out there’ in the marketplace.

This is beyond just ‘sharing’. This is when you are deliberately entering the book selling business and have to do things like make a pitch, write a query letter, tweet/email someone in the business or, if you are self publishing, pick a platform, and self promote.


This is when you/I have to make yourself/myself get up off the couch…

Ok.  Square the shoulders, and assert yourself with purpose, with focus, and with polite firmness…

Declare: ‘my work is worthy of of the market’s attention’.

Say it again: ‘my work is worthy of of the market’s attention’.

This requires BOLDNESS x 10.

But by this point, remember: writers are boldness ninjas.

Before we even reach this point, we have acted with considerable boldness. As noted above, we experience many many many micro-bold moments over time.

Now here’s a macro-bold moment and guess what? You got this!

It’s the same muscle group. Just flex it!

And that, I think, is the writing life writ BOLD.

Just follow step 1-3 on and on, to infinity.

Or did I miss something? Where else are we bold with as writers? Any thoughts? List them below!

PS. How do you like my low-tech comic (above) made from recycled cardboard with a sharpie pen? Bitstrips as I knew it is no longer, alas. So no new bitstrips comics from me.

I’m going DIY. But TY Bitstrips, we had a good run!



When Writing Leaves You Feeling Vulnerable

June 4, 2015

pub1Sometimes I shout inwardly:




I have a pen name all picked out. Many years ago, when I volunteered at the GLBT bookstore in Vancouver, one of my co-volunteers misunderstood my name Julie as Jubilee when we were introduced.

I was very excited by this miscommunication. JUBILEE! I excitedly responded. That’s awesome!

Isn’t that a great name? Jubilee sounds fun loving and sassy and bright. Jubilee is happy go lucky and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, so there.

But I have not been able to embrace this cool pen name. I have decided to be boringly ‘authentic’ and ‘claim my writing life’ as who I am naturally: Julie Johnson.

Also, I have been so keen to claim my writing identity, I have not been able to shut up about it. Everyone knows. Every one, near and far, in the Twitter-verse and down the road.

This leads to moments of horrible paralysis.

Moments of a very particular writing brain-freeze that is akin to stage fright.

Watch, as I enter the twilight realm of ‘what if’…

What if someone I know reads my finished work. What if, while publicly congratulating me on email, FB and Twitter, they secretly feel it’s terrible, scandalous, badly written and probably half of it is autobiographical…they are trying to work out what parts reveal my dirty secrets…is that Mr. Rutherford character based on a high-school boyfriend, for instance?

The worst will be people I interact with face to face. There we’ll stand, chatting about the weather, both of us keenly aware of page 119. Yes, I wrote that scene. Yes, I know you know I wrote that scene and I know you know I know, you know?


So very awkward.

This can be such a stomach churning sensation in my imagination that all further writing dries up.

What if my parents read this? What if my friends read this? What if my co workers read this? What if my neighbours read this? What if my kids, when they are all grown up, read this? What about my in laws? My extended family? The students I’ve worked with over the years?

The bus driver? The contractor who put in our front door? My chiropractor? The dentist?

What will they think?


In moments like these, I have to talk myself back into a better head space. 

I have to tell myself:

  • most people you know will not read your book, Regency mysteries not being their cup of tea
  • most people you know will just be happy for you that you got published and reached your goal
  • most people you know are polite, they won’t openly admit if they disliked it
  • and if they disliked it, then they did, so what?

It’s easier to think of strangers reading my books. So sometimes I try take the personal element out of it.

Sometimes I channel my feelings into the book. Guess what, main character, you are about to experience a cringe inducing moment of vulnerability in front of your worst enemy…

Because, it’s true, fiction can be autobiographical, though not in the way most people think…

Like most things in life, here’s how you handle it: you take a deep breath, and keep on going as you were, right towards your goal, right on through.

Write even though you feel vulnerable. Write until you feel strong in your voice again. And if you feel vulnerable again, here’s the plan:

Keep writing.


How to Handle Query Letter Rejection: 6 Suggestions

November 12, 2014

not personal
When I started querying my historical mystery to literary agents, I knew to expect rejection.

It’s practically a Writers Rite of Passage, I told myself. Don’t you remember reading ‘legends’ of ‘famous authors’ framing their first rejection letters and putting in on the wall?

Then I got my first one.

Boy, did that sting.

Of course, this being the modern era, it didn’t come as a ‘letter’ but as an email. A ‘form email’. (It says right in the email: this is a form email.)

Sorry but this is not what I am looking for. Good luck, best wishes, sayonara.

The email is kind. No one is saying YOU SUCK, YOUR NOVEL SUCKS, THE WHOLE IDEA SUCKS.

They are polite and encouraging. TRY SOMEWHERE ELSE, M’K?

But still my first reaction was: noooooooooooo.

And then, a torrent: How could they not see the brilliance of my idea? How could they not love it as I love it? What the heck was wrong with them? Or: What the heck was wrong with me? How could they not like me? Wasn’t I a good writer? Why didn’t they like meeeee?

Which leads me to my first suggestion:


While getting over that first sting, I had to remind myself: The publishing industry is a business. Decisions around whether to accept a manuscript boil down to business decisions. It is not a personal attack. My plan just does not fit with their plan. And these plans are very individual to each specific literary agent.

It is nothing personal.


Of course, rejection causes a reaction. My novel is a passion project. I devoted a lot of time, energy and thought into it. I want it to be lovingly embraced by everyone. When it isn’t, I’m going to feel the feels. I’ll be a little sad. This is OK.


But at some point I need to move past ‘the sads ‘and get a little critical. I need to take a closer look at my query letter, my novel excerpts, my one page synopsis, etc so that I can better answer the question: why was my submission rejected? Of course, it may only be because its not a good match for that particular agent (it’s a business, remember?). But also: did I follow the submission guidelines correctly? Were there any typos? Does my query letter need work? Is there any way I can improve upon it? Is there any course I can take or examples on line that I can use to improve my submissions?


If things need fixing, fix ’em.


However, a word of caution! Do not self examine your work into oblivion! I find this to be a fine line but it is oh so necessary. I have no intention of re-inventing my work to cater to every opinion or sample out there! At some point, a line must be drawn in the sand where I say: I am not changing anything (else). I trust my own writer judgement. I like this the way it is.

Be discerning about ‘advice’. Carefully consider it and reject it as needed.

Support yourself and your vision.


I went to a writer’s workshop in May given by the fabulous Brian Henry on ‘How to Get Published’ and he said something that still sticks with me. He said:

You need 2 of these 3 things to get published:


Now, a good book is not that easy to quantify. It seems like it should be straightforward. But I can go on goodreads and cite numerous examples of one star vs four star reviews for the same book! Not everyone likes the same things. Not everyone agrees on ‘good’. (Though I’ll bet more people agree on ‘bad’–but that’s a topic for another blog post).

So I can’t really control who sees my book as ‘good’. If I think it’s good, maybe others will think it’s good? But still, the entire premise is a bit whishy-washy.

As to luck, pffft. I can’t control that either. It happens or it doesn’t.

But what I can control? PERSISTENCE.

I can step up to the computer with all the verve of a baseball slugger stepping up to the plate, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth.

I can DO this.

I can submit somewhere else. I can keep trying. I can keep stepping up to the plate, and one of these times, it’s gonna be a home run!

So, in summary, don’t get too distracted by rejections.

Keep your eye on the ball. Keep swinging!


How Searching for Literary Representation Doesn’t Need to Equal ‘Angst’

September 23, 2014

In the movie version of my writing life, submitting my novel to various literacy agencies would no doubt be full of angst, as evidenced by lots of coffee swilling, swearing, and a montage of me tossing crumpled query letters over and over again into an over flowing waste basket. *cue jittery acid jazz as accompaniment*

Luckily, the real life version is much less stressful and, frankly, more FUN. *cue I’m Walking On Sunshine*

I’m really excited to find a home for my novel. (See my post: 4 Ways to Mentally Prepare For Querying Your Novel)

Finishing my novel was like crossing the line at a marathon. Searching for representation is like browsing the booths after the hard run. It’s the equivalent of nibbling samples of protein bars, drinking cool water, and enjoying the feel of warm sun on my face. I’m shopping around, looking at items of interest, searching for people who I know share my love of writing.

That’s all good.

I’ll admit that I balked a bit at the shift from creative writer to query writer. It seemed intimidating. But I studied examples and I went to a workshop and I got the hang of it and, guess what? I think I wrote a pretty good query letter!

Then came the submission guideline that required a one page synopsis.

Oh ho! A new writing challenge!

Ok, there was a little bit of hand wringing on my part to start. But I did as before: studied examples and looked for advice (like this site or this one) (Thank you, internet!)

Then I tried to write the thing, using those suggestions. NO MORE THAN 3 CHARACTERS MENTIONED BY NAME!  MAIN PLOT ONLY! NO SUB PLOTS!

I gave it a try and first draft took up 2 pages. Can I put the font size to 3 I wondered? NO. NO. Can’t. They need to be able to read it with normal vision, not a microscope.

Tried again.

It felt, briefly, like an impossible task. Like trying to fit into size 0 jeans. Never gonna happen. Not in my world.

Luckily, writing is not the same as one’s genetic predisposition, eating habits and biology. I CAN make my writing fit size 0 jeans, or in this case, one page.

It required some ruthlessness. And a rather reckless use of the EDIT/DELETE functions.

But I did it.

Time for a happy dance! 




4 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Querying Your Novel

September 9, 2014

If you’ve been following my blog then you know that I recently completed my novel, that I’m gearing up for publication, and that I handed my precious baby over to some test readers to give me feedback.

The feed back I received was helpful and fabulous! I was relieved to see that nothing SUPER CRAZY HUGE needed fixing. I don’t have to tear it all down to its foundations and start over. It needs a few brush ups and tweaks and ONE FINAL READ THROUGH by moi, and then I think I might just be ready to feed it to the wolves…er…I mean, submit it to literary agents for their consideration!

Realistically, I know to brace for rejection. ‘A thousand no’s before you hit that one yes!’ It could take months, years. We’ve all heard the stories. ‘Even Harry Potter got rejected!’ (Or is that urban legend? Dunno)

I imagine this rejection will feel painful–for a moment. I’ll think: What’s wrong with it? Why don’t you want it? Don’t you like meeeeeee? Wah!

But I’ve got thicker skin…and also, other mind sets to rely on. Such as:

1. Confidence.

I know my book is good. I don’t just say that out of ego. I’ve worked on it for a long time. I’ve made it better. This isn’t my first novel. (Prior stories are in a banker box down stairs). I’m an avid reader, particularly of my genre (historical mystery). I know what works and I can compare those published pieces to mine. I think mine squares up. I feel good about letting other people read it.

I’m willing to put it out there, as many times as needed.

2. Flexibility

I know it’s a good book. But I’m willing to listen to advice and change it as necessary. Now, if someone says to me “it needs vampires”, well, I am probably not going to go that route. But if they told me something more practical, something that resonated with the world of the book , then I would listen.  I would definitely listen. And the advice might have to come from inside me (because agents rarely give out feedback). I am willing to be open to those voices.

3. Partnership Potential

I’m not sure why the relationship between agent/publisher and unpublished writer feels so very conflicted, like it’s us vs them. I’m guessing it’s a way to deal with the fear of rejection. They become the straw men/women upon which the unpublished masses rest their fears. They become a bit larger than life. Maniacal gate keepers laughing at us writing fools: bwa ha ha!

But, really, just start googling agents on line. Follow them on twitter. They are real people! Real people just doing a job! They drink coffee/tea, use cell phones, watch netflix (if they ever have the time) just like we do!

Agents…they’re just like us!

And here’s something else: THEY LOVE BOOKS LIKE WE DO!

This is common ground. Can you see it now?

This does not have to be an adversarial relationship. There is the potential for partnership. A mutually beneficial one.

See them as fuzzy bunnies, not wolves. It’ll make it easier to send the query letters out if you know you’re looking for your novel’s soul mate, rather than facing down a tyrannical nay sayer.

Our attitude should be: are you the one? Rather than: Please don’t hurt me!

4. It’s not personal. 

If/when I get rejected, I need to understand: it’s not personal. It’s business. Whoever that poor soul it was who rejected Harry Potter (if true, I really must look it up sometime), he/she did so because it didn’t make good business sense. The book wasn’t the right fit at the right time. It just wasn’t meant to be.

But the good news is, it did find a home. It found a very good home. It found a happy home within which to grow and sire a long lineage.

And I know, one day, my book will find a good home too. The right fit at the right time.

Just gotta put it out there!




A Query About Query Letters: How Do I Make Mine Stand Out?

May 20, 2014

queryI’ve signed up for a How To Get Published workshop and it suggests bringing a copy of my ‘query letter’. I presume so we can critique it and make it better.

I didn’t have a query letter as of yet…so I just sat down and wrote one.

There are a gazillion examples on the internet. (Go on, google it).

It’s a form letter, more or less: Insert word count here. Insert summary here. Add your bio and contact details. DONE!

Sigh. If only it were as simple as that.

Like with any cover letter, you want to inject a little bit of PIZZAZ and INDIVIDUALITY into it.

Think about submitting a cover letter for a job. They are so full of ‘acceptable’ words/phrases (“I’m an organized, responsible, experienced, team player etc. “) that by the time you reach Yours Sincerely, your cover letter looks like every other cover letter written since the dawn of time. BORING.

Same problem with a query letter.

Of course, with a query letter, at least I can say that my plot is different.

It is, isn’t it? But now that I think about it, the-husband-presumed-dead-but-might-be-alive schtick, which is my main plot point, has been done before. Ho Hum.

Wait, I want to write, there’s so much more to my novel then that!

My novel has:

  • spies
  • gangsters
  • a masquerade ball
  • a mysterious diary
  • drinking binges
  • lots of good Regency food
  • women fainting
  • men crying
  • extra marital affairs
  • a rabble rouser

And not one, not two, not three BUT FOUR suitors for my heroine to choose from!


I can’t go into all that.

I’ve got to fit this into one page. Succinctly.

I’ve got to take a 115 000 word novel (yes, I am currenlty editing to reduce that word count) and condense it into a few lines.

I have to somehow make that one paragraph compelling, without resorting to my drinking binges! gangsters!  Etc. bells and whistles.

I almost think writing the novel was easier. *note the use of the word ‘almost’*

PS In the comic above, when I say ‘Mr. Darcy look alike’ I really mean a Colin Firth As Mr. Darcy look a like.

PPS. Dear writers, if you’ve gone down the query letter road, how did you make your query letter stand out?

PPPS Perhaps this site can help me.

PPPPS Most literary agencies make it very clear on their submission pages…do NOT hand deliver anything to them. (I presume that applies even to Colin Firth look a likes!) So I guess I’ll have to send him somewhere else. Where should I send him, dear reader? Hmmm?


Traditional or Indie? It’s the Writer Equivalent of ‘What’s Your Sign?’

May 10, 2014


“Are you traditional or indie?”

It’s the writer equivalent of WHAT’S YOUR SIGN?

Now that I’m whipping my manuscript into shape with an eye to publication, I’ve been asked this loaded question.

Do a quick google search and you can see that it’s a polarizing topic. It’s like Coke vs Pepsi. There are die hards out there who will never let a sip of the other (Coke/Pepsi/Indie/Traditional) touch their lips.

Here’s what I make of it so far.

Writers who are INDIE are:

rebellious, independent, motivated, visionary, controller of own destiny, hard worker with good marketing skills…

….but may be misguided in thinking their work is the best there is because, sorry, sweetheart, just cuz your mom says she liked it doesn’t mean you should sell it on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents.

That place needs to come with a warning sign: WARNING: Bad editing and bad books abound! It’s hit or miss.

Some hits/success stories but too many misses.

It can be hard to find your gem of a book amongst all the ones that stink.

And writers who favour TRADITIONAL are:

old fashioned, stick in the muds, who don’t realize the publishing world has changed.

They’re seeking Big Daddy approval in an acceptance letter that will probably never come and even if it does, you will be gouged financially for them doing all the work you could have done on your own anyway (or so say the Indie crowd)…

On the other hand, there is definite cache in being accepted by a publisher, a sense of accomplishment and pride.

There’s also the potential of working with a like minded person/community, who can help you make your book even better than your mom thinks it is. They can assist with the business side and have the access to the channels of marketing and distribution that normal mortals can’t reach, no matter how much they tweet, blog and flash their social media and marketing flair.

So, where should I stand?

I’ve tried the Indie approach, self publishing two iBooks through my ed-tech company BetterThanWorksheets Inc (@BTWorksheets). My husband and I, being teachers, wanted to make literacy learning interactive and fun. So I wrote and he designed Sarah the Super Spy and You Know the Answer Adventures. A third is in the works: a short story collection about zombies with an emphasis on Blooms Taxonomy style questions.

All very exciting. However…we create these in our ‘spare time’ and most of that time is invested in the creating process. We haven’t yet mastered the marketing component. It’s not our forte and it’s a steep learning curve.

To sum: going indie takes time/energy/focus that we haven’t got yet.

We love our iBooks but can’t seem to get them to the readers who would love them, too.

I’ve found this aspect of indie publishing frustrating. I don’t want that for my novel.

I also don’t want it to languish in the hit or miss netherworld of Kindle 99 cents.

I want the support of a traditional publisher and I’m willing to write the query letters and face the rejection letters in order to get it.

I want my novel to have a ‘home’.

So if you’re going to ask me…what’s my sign?

I’m going to have to say, in this instance: traditional, baby! It’s traditional.

PS. And now I ask my writer tweeps…what’s your sign, baby? Leave in the comments below.

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