I am pleased to be able to share another of my 20 question interviews, this time with author, promoter and publisher Susan Toy. Susan, apart from writing novels and publishing them through imprints IslandCatEditions and IslandShorts, also goes out of her way to promote self-published authors and their works on her ”Reading Recommendations’ blog. This time it’s Susan who is being promoted, so sit back with a cup of coffee and find out more about her……..
- I have been on holiday to the beautiful Beaches district of Toronto, where you were born. If you had to choose just one, would you prefer to live in The Beaches, in Calgary where you have also lived for many years, or in Bequia in the Caribbean where you have a house?
Our family cottage north of Toronto was also a very important “home” during my life. So, along with The Beach (we always referred to the area in the singular), Calgary and Bequia, I identify with these places. While I’ve thought of living, or have tried to live, in all four places again, I haven’t been successful, so I now split my time between the Caribbean and Canada. Your question had me returning to a blog post I wrote in 2013 titled, “Home and a sense of belonging” (https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/from-the-vaults-home-and-a-sense-of-belonging-april-19-2013 ), because I have been again wondering exactly where it is I do belong in this world. What I have discovered is that each of these main places where I’ve lived during my life have been used extensively as settings in my writing. And that they are all situated next to bodies of water/ranges of mountains that allow me a “view”, so to speak, that leads to introspection – not a bad way for an author to pass the time.
And, just to add more locations to the mix, last summer we bought a mobile home that permanently sits in a campground that’s close to Lake Huron (another large body of water …). To me, the campground is just like spending summers at the cottage, all over again! So, not really going home, but close enough to my memories of that home.
2. Do you thrive on extreme temperatures? Do you tend to spend Canadian winters in Bequia, and Caribbean summers in Canada?
I’ve always been a summer person. I was born on the first day of summer, my parents bought a cottage north of Toronto the year I was born, and I spent every summer there until I was 17, when I began working summer jobs in Toronto. I never enjoyed winter sports, but have always been a great swimmer. So it’s not so much the extreme temperatures I thrive on as the ability to pursue summer activities year-round.
- If you were the only person left stranded on Bequia, how would you spend your day?
Pretty much as I spend every day now – sitting on my verandah, drinking coffee, writing, and reading. But the island would be gratifyingly quiet!
- You have based your travelogue/mystery novel ‘Island in the Clouds’ around the Caribbean island of Bequia. Is Bequia really the paradise on earth that I imagine it to be?
As my main character Geoff quips, “Paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” I personally believe that no place on earth can ever be considered “Paradise” and yet anywhere we are can be a kind of paradise, if we think of it that way for ourselves. It’s truly all in our minds.
- What are you writing at the moment?
I’m trying to finish rewriting the second novel in the “Bequia Perspectives Series” titled One Woman’s Island. More about the island but involving different characters than were in the first novel, and therefore a different perspective of life in this place.
- In 2008/2009 you won first place in writing contests for ‘Hockey Night on Bellefair Avenue’ and ’50 Ways to Lose Your Liver’. Can we find these stories in print?
Both stories have been published in two issues of the White Wall Review, a literary journal produced by Ryerson University (http://whitewallreview.blog.ryerson.ca/) that spotlights writing by their students and instructors. I may own the only extant copies of those particular issues, however. I did post PDFs of both stories in a blog post I wrote in 2012. https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/calling-all-readers-my-gift-to-you/
- Which social media do you find the most useful for promoting your novels and short stories?
Facebook followed by Twitter. Although promoting my own writing is not really why I use any social media. They’re both my go-to sites for promoting other authors, writing and reading in general, for news and for sharing whatever I post on all my blogs. For promoting my own publications, I prefer to use Goodreads.
- What is your preferred genre for reading?
Fiction – usually international authors and foreign-language in translation, both novels and short fiction.
- You created the writing contest Coffee Shop Author in 2011. Have you any plans in the pipeline for any other writing contests?
I have discussed the possibility of resurrecting the contest with one of the previous Coffee Shop Authors winners, because we both really enjoyed the whole premise behind the contest, which was to bring writers and their writing out into a public space so people could see that we really do work at our craft. But we need to figure out a way to finance the contest first … It would take a chunk of money to get that up-and-running.
- Do you think entering any fee-paying writing contest within their budget is good experience for a self-published author?
Yes, as long as they keep in mind that it’s the writing and entering part that count more than actually winning a writing contest. Contests impose a deadline and discipline, and they’re excellent practise, as well.
Plus there are many, many free-to-enter contests that offer the same kind of benefits as above.
- Which is the best writing contest for a self-published author to enter?
I’m not really in tune with the contests that are out there any longer, so I won’t be much help on this one. There are a couple of sites I subscribe to that offer listings of contest opportunities: [places for writers] (http://www.placesforwriters.com/ – and they also list calls for submissions) and Aerogramme Writers’ Studio (http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/). I entered the 3-Day Novel Contest (http://www.3daynovel.com/) 4 times and didn’t win, but came away with three novellas and the beginning of a collection of short stories. That contest was like a kick-in-the-seat-of the-pants to write a novel within the 3-day time limit. Well worth the cost of admission, I thought, as I managed to actually get a huge chunk of writing completed in a very short time.
- You own Alberta’s newest publishing company, IslandCatEditions. Does the company promote Canadian authors primarily?
IslandCatEditions was something I created to publish my own first novel – to give myself, as a self-published author, some credibility. I had never intended to publish other authors under that imprint. IslandShorts (https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/islandshorts/), however, is an ePublishing-only imprint I developed to showcase longform short stories and novellas. So far, I have only published short stories written by Michael Fay and my own novella, but we do have plans to publish more. And I am considering publishing work by other authors. My intent though is to publish writing I think is particularly good, no matter where the author may hail from.
- You promote authors and books on your blog ‘Reading Recommendations’ (https://readingrecommendations.wordpress.com/ ) Do you find it takes up quite a lot of your time, or have you managed to balance the amount of time you spend networking and writing?
Yes, a lot of time … and then, as if that wasn’t enough, I created another associated blog, reading recommendations reviewed (https://readingrecommendationsreviewed.wordpress.com/ ), which offers reviews (not written by me!) of books written by authors I’ve promoted on Reading Recommendations.
But I find that what I get out of both these blogs, in the reciprocal promotion of me, the blogs and my own writing, far outweighs all time spent putting the blogs together. I’ve discovered many, many great authors – from around the world! – I’ve had the great pleasure to read and promote, and quite a number have subsequently become good friends.
- Do you have any advice on how authors can find new readers?
Funny you should ask, because I’ve recently refocused my main blog (https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/a-new-focus-for-a-new-year/ ) and will be primarily writing about promotion and finding new readers. Here’s one of the blog posts I wrote previously on the subject. https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/looking-for-readers-in-all-the-right-places/ And you can count on there being more to come in the future.
In a nutshell, though, the best way to find readers for your own writing is to PROMOTE OTHER AUTHORS!! I’m not kidding.
- You represented authors directly through your company Alberta Books Canada. Are you still representing writers? If not, why did you stop?
No. I folded Alberta Books Canada when I moved out of Calgary and back to Bequia in late 2012. While I wasn’t charging much money to promote authors then, I found that many thought they couldn’t afford even that small amount. A few very loyal friends always appreciated the value in what I offered, but they were very few, in the scheme of things, and not enough to sustain the business. So I now promote authors on Reading Recommendations for free with the proviso that they in turn promote me, my blogs, and the other authors I promote. Sadly, even now, few of those authors actually reciprocate.
It’s ironic that authors believe all promotion should result in sales of their books, which then not only provide them with a return of that money they spent on the initial promotion, but also a profit. I have had a heck of a time convincing authors to think in the exact opposite way. Yes, you have to spend money to make money, and if you don’t do any promotion at all, you will never sell any copies. If you think in terms of your overall promotion costing you X-$$$s, and build that cost into the production expenses of your book (editing, design, formatting, etc.), you will already have taken into consideration the costs upfront – when you set the price for your book. (This is what traditional publishers do, folks!) And this way, you only take on paid promotion for which you have already allocated funds, so you won’t be crying poverty, because you haven’t yet sold any books.
We’re ALL poor! And we would all love to sell oodles of books and be able to make money from our writing. So don’t tell me you can’t afford to pay for promotion. Start looking for free promotion, if that’s the case, but don’t complain about poor sales being the reason you can’t pay for promotion. You have to be willing to do the real work (or pay someone else to do that work) of promoting and trust that those sales will eventually come, but not be guaranteed that they will. (Stepping down from the soap box now …)
- How was your trip to the Fernie Writers’ Conference in 2009 a life-changing experience?
I met the right people at the exact time I was planning on making changes in my life, and in the job I’d been doing, and found a sympathetic ear with whom I was able to share my dreams and ideas. Shortly after that, I quit my (paid) job, began Alberta Books Canada, and developed the contest, Coffee Shop Author.
- How did taking part in writing courses help you to improve your own novel writing?
I’m not sure that the courses helped me that much (other than to teach me that workshopping classes were not for me), but the writing community that was created, and the established authors who both taught and gave lectures during the conference were a great boost to my writing overall. It was that sense of belonging, and of being taken seriously by our peers, that was so empowering, and that led to an improvement of my writing.
- You are also an accomplished amateur cook. Do you try and plan something different to cook every single day?
I like variety and seldom cook the same recipe more than once, unless it’s really outstanding. I’ve taught myself to cook recipes from many different cultures, but am best at East Indian, Italian, and Mexican, plus baking breads and desserts. (Dennis cooks Asian, primarily Chinese and sushi, and is very good with BBQing and smoking foods.) I have a lot of cookbooks and really do enjoy looking for new recipes.
- Which is the most unusual ingredient you have ever used in your cooking?
Whale meat. And I will leave it at that.
- Are you superstitious?
I have to say I am not superstitious. I do believe in fate and that things happen the way they do in our lives because they were meant to work that way. But we’ve been owned by several black cats and my mother always thought of “13” as being her lucky number, so I guess I didn’t have a “superstitious” kind of upbringing at all.
You can find Susan on the following social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susanmtoy and also at https://www.facebook.com/Island-in-the-Clouds-135848643200688/?
My thanks go to Susan for the interview. If there are any other authors or publishers out there who would like to answer 20 of my questions, please get in touch via my website http://www.stevie-turner-author.co.uk and leave me some information about yourself.
Look out for my next interview later in the week with author Michael Phelps.