Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Publicity's Digital Decade

Today’s interview with Ms. Hajni Blasko, creator of Substance Books, was conducted by Samantha Rideout, Assistant Editor at Reader's Digest.

Hajni Blasko started the world's first online book publicity network, Substance Books, in February 2001. Ten years later, she remains a pioneer in this emerging field.

What exactly is online book publicity? What does it involve?

HB: Online book publicity is an umbrella term for various forms of book publicity that take place over the Internet, including social networking, search engine pay-per-click advertising, branded web sites, and link exchanges with other web sites and online press releases. I do a little bit of all these things, but what I am mostly about these days is marketing through search engine optimization and online exposure, because I believe it's the most cost-productive publicity technique when it comes to book sales.

For those of us who haven't heard of it, what does search engine marketing mean?

HB: It means making sure that your title appears within the top search results on Google and other major search engines. This way, your title shows up in the “organic” search results, not just the area where the paid advertising goes. After all, 93% of all web traffic passes through a search engine, so if you want people who don't already know about your book to discover it; this is the way to go. The key to good search engine marketing is finding the appropriate key phrases that allow book buyers searching for their favorite genres to find our titles.

The web and its users have evolved a lot over the past ten years. How has online book publicity changed?

HB: When I first started Substance Books, online book publicity was unheard of, so I didn't have any similar companies to model myself on. In fact, I didn't even know what professional title to give myself — I thought of “online book publicist” one day in the bath. I learned by trying different things and seeing what worked. I started off by featuring the authors together in one website, to give them more publicity power than they would each have individually. Over time, this website got a lot of visits, which made it crawl up higher on search engine results. Eventually, I figured out how to get even better search engine results using SEO techniques. There are a few more online book publicists out there now, but I think I'm the only one who offers search engine marketing along with other services.

How will you be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Substance Books?

HB: I'm offering a $20 listing fee discount to any new clients who are members of our Facebook page.

Social networking is very “in.” How can authors and publishers use it to their advantage? 

HB: Authors can use Twitter and Facebook to brand themselves, meet other authors and disseminate information about book signings and the like. But I need to emphasize that it's one tool among many for gaining online exposure for your title. It might be fun to spend 20 hours a week on Facebook, but if you want a return in the form of book sales you must spend your time intelligently. Facebook is working hard on improving its own search-engine usability and capabilities, so it is extremely important to know how to manage your Facebook collateral. For this very reason we are offering free customized Facebook pages to our authors, designed to bring the right book to the right audience.

What should a book's website or Facebook page look like?
HB: I believe that all authors and publishers should have a website which is search engine optimized and up to industry standards. Amateurish websites and bare-bones Facebook pages are no longer good enough; the online competition is too stiff. Applets, RSS feeds and iphrames are basic components of a professional Facebook page. This is why Substance Books has also been offering website design and makeover services for the past five years. If you have a mystery thriller, your website should be as good as Dan Brown's, because that's your online competition.

How does online book publicity fit in with more traditional kinds of book publicity? Do you see it replacing book fairs and so on?

HB: No; I think there will always be a place for traditional exposure to readers and the press, even though online publicity is becoming more and more important. Ideally, the two forms of publicity would create a synergy together. That's why I participate in BookExpo America every year and look forward to the London Book Fair next year.

Do you have any final advice for authors and publishers who are interested in online publicity? 

HB: Just that they should focus on their main objectives. For example, if your objective is sales, then targeting the readers who love the book's genre is probably going to sell more books than scattering ads for your book all over the Internet. And a few loyal readers are worth more than a whole lot of one-time visitors to your website or your distributor. It's not so much about the quantity of exposure you get; it's about the substance of the exposure.

For more information contact: Hajni Blasko at:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do You End With A Bang?

Whether you’re writing the end of a chapter or the end of a novel, you must take into account what the reader will take from that ending. Will it make an impact on him/her?

So let’s talk about chapters.

When you’re writing chapters, don’t lose focus of your writing. Some writers focus on where to insert the next break. Once you’ve written your first draft, you can come back and decide on a suspenseful scene or interesting point that’ll keep your reader wanting for more, a cliffhanger if you will.

You may start a new chapter when the story needs a shift in time, place, point of view, etc. By doing this, you’ll stimulate your reader’s mind. It can also refresh your reader’s eye after a long interval in one setting or situation. When you end a chapter, you’re also adding continuum and pacing; both of which are essential for balancing suspense to your story.

Be brave! Break your chapters in the heart of the action. I know, it’s a tease but it works. This will keep readers interested in the saga. Just remember one important aspect of this technique: don’t do it at the end of every chapter as this will definitely bore your readers. Do it for effect.

Now that you have these pointers, get going and finish/edit your chapters!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Writing for Children in Mother Language Competition

Dear Bloggie Friends,

Calling all children’s authors! I am happy to share with you an interesting, challenging, and colorful competition. I spoke with Happie Testa, co-owner of Rainbow Caterpillar Bookstore and she is proud to launch the Rainbow Caterpillar Award for Writing for Children. The prize will be awarded to the best story written by a Canadian citizen or resident in a language other than French or English. She said, “By encouraging writers to write in their mother language, we want to help create a vibrant literary production for children in foreign languages, but with a uniquely Canadian perspective.”

Submissions are due on October 6th and the guidelines are available online at The winning story will receive $750.00 (CDN) and publication in a collection of all winning submissions. There will also be 10 honorable mentions in different languages with publication in a collection of all winning submissions.

The award will be presented in conjunction with the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA) at the Association’s own 33rd Annual Awards Gala. CEMA is an organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the value to Canada of the ethnic media in creating an understanding of Canada and Canadian citizenship, and the retention of cultural links with countries of origin;

About Rainbow Caterpillar Bookstore
Rainbow Caterpillar Bookstore sells children’s books in a number of languages from around the world to meet the needs of Canadian parents who want to teach their children their own mother tongues and raise them in a home language other than English and French.

It is to support them that Rainbow Caterpillar already offers nearly 100 titles in Italian, Spanish, Gujarati, Farsi, Arabic and Chinese and more languages are added on request of parents. The products range from old-fashioned fairy tale books to interactive talking books, books with CDs, DVDs and even games that make it fun and easy to keep home languages alive without focusing on direct teaching, but on learning by living.

For more information call: Happie Testa at 647-975-8800 or visit

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Call for Submissions: An Anthology of Dating Stories

Photo courtesy of Dr. Erin Vollick (Book cover of anthology)
Interview with Dr. Erin Vollick

Erin, first of all, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be interviewed for my blog.

CDB: As you can imagine, a lot of my fellow bloggers wear different hats like you. I’m curious, how do you manage your time between being a busy Director of Communications, a writer, and a new mommy? Is there any time left for Erin?

EV: Ha! Very little! Being a new mother is quite literally the most transfiguring experience of my life. But, like a day job (that constantly runs waaaaay overtime) it’s very difficult to find time to write, let alone put my laundry away, clean my house, etc. But things that are important always have a way of getting done…. And somehow, I still manage to read a ton of books!

CDB: You now work for Inbox Communications; did your writing skills help you land this job? What type of writing do you do for them?

EV: I met the President and CEO of Inbox Communications during my Masters degree in Creative Writing at Concordia University. We were in the same small cohort of writers, so you could definitely say my writing skills got me the job! I do all sorts of writing for Inbox: reports, blog entries, proposals, you name it, although my job is about a lot more than just writing. The writing project I’m most proud of for Inbox is the monthly astrology column I’ve started for the company, geared towards communications professionals—it’s so much fun!

CDB: In your first novel, The Originals, you talked about nuclear warfare, politics, survival of humankind and friendship. Do you think being a new mom has affected your writing style? Do you write about lighter subjects nowadays?

EV: Funny you should ask me that… A friend of mine just sent me a children’s book called “Night Cars” as a present for my son. The book was written by Teddy Jam—A.K.A Matt Cohen—winner of the Governor General’s award for fiction. Matt just happened to be my mentor in undergrad, and the reason I’m a published author today… And I had no idea he even wrote children’s books. I understand why Matt would want to be a children’s author as well as an adult fiction writer, though. When you have a child you begin to filter the world through two consciousnesses—your own and the children around you. My first novel skirted (okay, landed on) the YA genre. It was important to me that I write something that would speak to the generations coming into their own, taking their places in the world, and it’s a genre I think I’ll be revisiting shortly.

CDB: I learned through the Quebec Writers’ Federation that your latest project is an anthology of dating stories. How did you come up with this idea?

EV: My friend and former colleague at McGill University, where I completed my PhD, had an idea with another friend of hers for writing down a bunch of their funniest and most awful dating adventures. These two hilarious women brought me on board, as, at the time, we were all dating quite widely. The idea simmered between us for years until recently, when it just seemed like the right time.

CDB: Is this a joint project? What prompted you to co-author this book?

EV: My fabulous co-conspirator, co-editor and dear friend is Dr. Stephanie King. She has some of the funniest dating stories I’ve ever heard. She has dated a lot, and dated in interesting ways—unlike me, she’s part of a community that promotes and accepts matchmaking and blind dates as par for the course. With her dating history and my publishing know-how, we figured we could get this very ambitious project off the ground. We also went through our PhD program together, so we know how each other thinks and works.

CDB: You are also looking for submissions from female writers. Can anyone participate or is this geographically restricted to Canadian writers?

EV: We’ve actually already accepted submissions from contributors living in the United States, and we’ve received international attention from our call for submissions—we’re definitely not limiting the anthology geographically. For now, though, we are only accepting stories by women—because thematically, we’re interested in women’s experiences for this collection (although the gender of their partners is completely up to them!). We’ve been approached by men who are interested in sharing their dating stories, however, which is absolutely amazing! To those men I’ve said that once we get this one off the ground, we might try to cobble together a collection of men’s dating stories as a companion to Naked People Behaving Badly.

CDB: In your opinion, what would make a good story?

EV: What would make a good dating story? Something honest and genuine. Something bizarre. An anecdote—an experience that stands out in your mind.

CDB: What do you want to tell women through this anthology?

EV: I don’t actually want to tell women anything. What Stephanie and I are trying to do is hold a mirror up for women to see their experiences through new eyes. Dating—especially when you’re no longer in your twenties—is hard, and sometimes scary, and very often disappointing even when it’s hilarious. What I’d personally like to do is create a book where women can learn something about what their experiences mean to them—that’s what happens when a group of women sit down and share their stories over dinner or a drink. That’s the kind of experience we’re after with this anthology.

CDB: Would you please give us more details about submission guidelines?

EV: Basically we’re looking for ‘real life’ stories. Though we’re accepting fictional submissions, we’re really just looking for honest to goodness real-life dating adventures. Like the time that guy puked all over your shoes on the first date. Or the time you went on a date with a guy you’d met at a party only to realize you didn’t recognize him, because at the party he’d worn a wig, while the guy waiting for you at the coffee shop with that expectant look on his face is b.a.l.d. We’re trying to keep the concept, and our expectations, wide open, so that our submissions are as wide-ranging as possible.

The stories can be postcard fiction—think of telling us about a date you went on in a single paragraph. They can be longer, too—up to 12 pages double-spaced. Stephanie has also started taping stories in the Montreal region. She realized she had a ton of friends with stories, but none of them were writers or felt like they could get them down on paper, so she’s been taping the stories and transcribing them. The thing is, we’re not looking for polished gems—we’re after that unbelievable story that you can’t wait to tell your best girlfriends about. And we want to hear it the way you’d tell it to her.

FYI: You can find our revised deadline and Call For Submissions on our brand spanking new website:

CDB: Erin, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful opportunity with my readers. I wish you much success in your new career and your anthology.

EV: Thank you so much, Claudia!!!