The extraordinary new “Dictionary of Canadianisms”: An insider’s view


Jacques Plante’s goalie mask. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo: M. Pick (from Dollinger and Fee, 2017).

Just over a year ago, I started proofreading The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP‑2). The creation of this unique online dictionary was led by Dr. Stefan Dollinger (editor-in-chief) and Dr. Margery Fee (associate editor), with the assistance of many students working out of the Canadian English Lab at UBC.

Today (March 17, 2017) the DCHP-2 goes live online at It is available in open access, free of charge, for anyone to view and use (with appropriate citation, see Dollinger and Fee (2017) below). After eleven years of work, Dollinger and his team have been able to achieve their goal of releasing the dictionary in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial).

It isn’t a coincidence that the DCHP‑2 builds upon the foundation of the DCHP-1, a dictionary published in 1967 (Canada’s centennial) under the direction of editor Walter Avis. However, the huge advances in computer technology and linguistics research have made it possible to produce a much more ambitious and expansive dictionary.

Note: For a full account of the history, methodology, and linguistics research involved in the production of the DCHP-2, please refer to the Introduction and Project History sections of the online dictionary at

The DCHP‑2 is not like any other dictionary. First of all, as its title says, its words are “Canadianisms” (with the exception of a few words, now labelled “non-Canadian” that were previously thought to be Canadian). So, what is a “Canadianism”?

To quote from Avis, the editor of the DCHP-1, a Canadianism is

a word, expression, or meaning which is native to Canada or which is distinctively characteristic of Canadian usage though not necessarily exclusive to Canada (Avis 1967: xiii).

 The DCHP‑2 adds a mere 1002 words (or expressions) to the DCHP-1’s legacy data for 10,974 headwords, but each entry includes much more information than did the DCHP-1 or any traditional dictionary. Part of the work done to produce the DCHP-2 was the gathering of over 51,000 new quotations (double the number found for the DCHP-1); these quotations comprise the Bank of Canadian English (BCE), and almost 9,000 of them were incorporated into the new dictionary.

Each entry begins with the word’s etymology, a definition, and the “type” of Canadianism it is. In addition to these basics, there is a detailed Word Story that explains such things as the word’s origins, how its use has changed over time, regional differences in its use, and other details. Some words have more than one meaning.

Each meaning’s Word Story is followed by quotations found in written records or sometimes spoken records such as radio broadcasts. Some of these quotation lists span a period of a hundred years or more, and provide a comprehensive picture of how a word’s use has developed, as well as a more general impression of how everyday Canadian writing and speech have changed over the years.

Some of the dictionary’s entries contain thousands of words of text; that’s why proofreading all of it consumed a significant portion of my working hours in 2016! And thanks to the internet, which eliminates the need to limit the amount of text and audio/visual enhancements, the DCHP‑2 contains many other distinctive features. Most entries are accompanied by “Frequency Charts” that compare a word’s use in English-speaking countries worldwide; some words also have regional Frequency Charts to illustrate how a word is used (or not used) across Canada’s provinces and territories.

Entries are also enriched by photos, charts from linguistics research, and YouTube videos. This is a cutting-edge dictionary!

Why explore the DCHP-2?

Reading the DCHP-2 provides a learning experience unlike any other: it is a comprehensive and quirky immersion in Canada’s history, politics, language, customs, and culture. Canadians reading it will feel a glow of recognition and pride because it shows how specifically Canadian words or meanings of words reflect what is distinctive about Canada; in other words, the DCHP‑2 displays our “national personality”: our origins (Indigenous, English, French, and others), our politics (particularly the French-English conflicts), predominant industries that have shaped Canada, and our culture. Culture includes our foods, our celebrations, our arts, and our sports, the latter dominated, of course, by the huge influence of hockey on our national consciousness.

If you are a Canadian, you will not only learn from the DCHP-2, but you will have fun as you “test” yourself against its findings. How many Canadianisms have you never heard of? Do you actually use the words in the ways the dictionary describes, including the regional differences given for many of the words? Were you aware of the many differences between Canadian and American English (these involve much more than some spelling variations).

A quick peek into some of the DCHP-2’s entries


As a humble proofreader, I am the only person in addition to Stefan Dollinger (editor-in-chief) and Margery Fee (associate editor) who has read the entire text of the DHCP-2. This means I can give readers an overview of notable topics the entries cover, as well as examples of words from each topic.

To me, an enticing quality of the DCHP-2 is the way every Canadian can relate to many of its words in a personal way. We can recognize our own everyday expressions, our activities, our special events—the myriad of things that “make us” Canadian. I’ve included a few words at the end of this post that I particularly liked or that had personal significance for me.

Words relating to Canada’s roots: Indigenous words and politics, French words, Newfoundland words

Some Inuit words or words from other Indigenous languages are included in the DCHP-2. In addition, there are many extremely long entries related to the complicated relationship (past and present) between Canada’s mainstream population and its Indigenous peoples. Some examples are amautik, Qalunaat, skookum, Assembly of First Nations, missing and murdered women, and reconciliation.

As one of Canada’s founding languages, French remains pervasive in Canada, not only in Quebec French but in French words that have been adapted into English versions or used in their original French form in the everyday speech of anglophones. Some examples are cabane á sucre, bloquiste, and depanneur.

Newfie words

Newfie” itself is an entry in the DCHP-2! Newfoundland is a special case in Canadian linguistics. There are so many words that are used in Newfoundland and nowhere else in Canada that it must have been difficult for the dictionary’s editors to decide which words to include. The DCHP-2 contains 132 words from this distinctive Newfoundland dialect; these words comprise the majority of the DCHP-2’s entries that were completely unfamiliar to me. A smattering of the many colourful entries follows: angle-dog, away, chin music, gut-foundered, dry diet, upalong, bonnyclabber, squidding, and baywop. And of course, the expression “Newfie joke” is a well-known Canadianism, though not one that Newfies like.


Of the many Canadianisms from the topic of Canadian politics, a good percentage relate to the long-standing clashes between Canada’s English and French cultures. Some examples: language police, bear-pit session, Trudeaumania, Bill 101, have-not province, and Meech Lake Accord.

Industry and Inventions

Many of the dictionary’s terms are related to Canada’s historically important forestry industry: terms such as bush ape, cork boots, catskinner, honey bag, and beehive burner. Words related to Canadian inventions include bombardier, Robertson screw, and Canadarm.


Amongst the many entries in this category are Canadian Screen Awards, Genie Award, Giller effect, CanCon, and National Film Board.

Cultural—food and brands

A great many of the DCHP-2’s entries relate to specifically Canadian foods. Again, the influence of Quebec and Newfoundland is especially noticeable. Many of the brand names included in the dictionary also relate to favourite Canadian foods. Canadians’ love of beer is reflected in a few expressions that would be mysterious to non-Canadians. A taste of these entries: Molson muscle, two-four, smoked meat, dry diet, Jiggs’ dinner, poutine, bumbleberry, cretons, figgy duff, Timbits, Kraft Dinner, and Cheezies.

Cultural—hockey and other sports

I’m not an ardent hockey fan, but like virtually all Canadians, I have a connection to the game. Until I was nine years old, my family was unusual in that we didn’t have a TV—but every April my father would rent one so he could watch every game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For that month, I watched hockey games (or heard them in the background) almost every night.

And hockey cards! Like all the other kids at my elementary school, I collected and traded them.

Hockey is a cornerstone of the Canadian identity. The DCHP-2 captures this. The entry for the word “hockey” is one of the longest in the dictionary. Moreover, it includes a huge number of words related to hockey. Many of them are well known, and are part of our everyday speech: for example, hockey mom, back of the net, slapshot, shinny, and game seven. There are other words I was unfamiliar with that a more dedicated hockey fan would understand—like puck-ragging. Hockey terms are so influential that some have metaphorical meanings—take a look at the entry for “hang up one’s skates”!

If you are a real Canadian, you know who The Great One is.

Other Canadian sports are mentioned in the DCHP-2 as well. I was ignorant about barrel-jumping—but the dictionary soon remedied that.

My favourite entries

One of the most fun aspects of reading the DCHP-2 is “testing” yourself to see if your understanding of a word’s meaning is in agreement with the scholarly findings reported in the Frequency Charts, especially the regional ones. I’ve spent roughly half my life in Toronto and the other half in Vancouver, so I expected to have a good understanding of words that were used predominantly in Ontario and British Columbia.

In a few cases, having grown up in Ontario gave me an especially nuanced understanding of certain Ontario terms. The most notable example of this was the word “Scarberia,” which is a nickname for Scarborough, a municipality outside of downtown Toronto. As it happens, I grew up about 400m from the Scarborough boundary, and had used the word “Scarberia” many times. This was the one entry in the dictionary when I went beyond my simple proofreading duties and suggested nuances in the meaning of “Scarberia” to the editor-in-chief that he incorporated into the Word Story.

Another entry I could relate to personally was “browner.” This word was used extensively when I was a junior high and high school student in Ontario, and indeed I might have been called one. However, our use of the word was often not as derogatory as the DCHP-2’s definition implies.

Running shoe ((1))” made it into the DCHP-2! Naturally, being a runner for over 40 years, I was interested in this entry, and satisfied to discover that my use of the term “running shoes” rather than “runners” is consistent with my Ontario background.

Finally, here is my nomination for the dictionary’s cutest term: “bunny hug.” If you are from Saskatchewan, you will know what a bunny hug is. Otherwise, look it up in the DCHP-2! I’m sure you will have great fun browsing, learning, and feeling a warm glow of patriotism as you read this special dictionary.

Note: You can read an excellent article about the DCHP-2 written by Michael Valpy and published in The Globe and Mail on March 10, 2017. He has a lot to say about “eh” but the dictionary itself will give you the full story!

March 23, 2107

Just published: Jesse Sheidlower, writing in The New Yorker, has a lot of good things to say about the DCHP-2 in his article too!

References Cited

Avis, Walter S. 1967. Introduction. In: Avis et al. (eds.), xii-xv. Also in DCHP‑1 Online (5 Dec. 2016)

Dollinger, Stefan (chief editor) and Margery Fee (associate editor). 2017. DCHP-2: The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, Second Edition. With the assistance of Baillie Ford, Alexandra Gaylie and Gabrielle Lim. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia,


Dr. Stefan Dollinger raises provocative questions about the “radically changing English-language ecosystem”

On Wednesday October 15, 2014, I was among the editors at our monthly EAC-BC meeting who had the privilege of listening to a fascinating presentation by Dr. Stefan Dollinger. His title, “Forks in the Road: Dictionaries and the Radically-Changing English-language Ecosystem” immediately grabbed our editorial attention.

Dr. Dollinger is Assistant Professor of English at UBC and the editor-in-chief of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (now available online here). He has written over 40 scholarly papers on topics related to the evolving English language and how what he called the “English Language Complex”, or ELC (meaning all the varieties of English spoken worldwide) affects decisions about how to research and compile dictionaries.

Even though I’m an editor and consider myself highly competent in English, Dollinger made me stop and think about what “correct” English is and what it means to be an “expert” user of English.

Early in his presentation, Dollinger referred to the Circle Model of English (coined by Braj Kachru in 1985). In this model, the inner circle of English-language speakers consists of native speakers from Great Britain, Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The inner circle has roughly 400 million members. The outer circle is made up of English speakers from countries that have historically been colonized by the English: India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Singapore. This circle has a billion members! But the biggest growth area of English by a long shot (Dollinger’s emphasis) comes from the expanding circle: English speakers from countries that have no historical experience of English use. China, of course, is the most significant country in this group because of its enormous population and its growing economic clout. The expanding circle includes another billion English speakers. Therefore, we are now at a point where the ratio of non-native English speakers to native speakers is 5:1!

English is unique: never, in the history of the world, has there been another language that has more non-native speakers than native speakers.

Dollinger used the term “English as a lingua franca” (ELF) to refer to English as spoken by non-native speakers. One provocative idea is that according to numbers, we have to consider ELF the most “real” English. What are some of the implications of this?

Can we still assume that “our” English (the English spoken by educated, articulate native speakers—and guarded passionately by editors!) is the English, the “best” English?

When it comes to teaching and learning English, would it not be more practical to use lingua franca English—a globally accepted English?

How could a globally accepted English be learned, when there is so much variation in English usage around the world?

This is where the creation of a lingua franca English dictionary could be critical. Dollinger admitted that this would be a huge task. He spent some time talking about the most highly-respected dictionary of English—the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and how it was created. Its editors relied heavily on excerption from literary sources. But Dollinger believes another method of research is required in order to create a global English dictionary. That is, empirical research: going out into the field and finding out how English is actually being used currently, depending on speakers’ geographical location, education, and social class.

How do we distinguish between “errors” in English and innovative evolution of English?

Dollinger gave several amusing examples of creative “new” English words that we, as Canadian “expert” English users, had not heard of before: two I remember are “peelhead” (meaning a bald person), and “batchmate” (meaning cohort). Logical, eh?

How do I feel about my “Canadian” being considered just one quaint dialect of English, rather than the English?

It’s strange to think that as a Canadian English native speaker, I might not be understood by the majority of  English speakers.worldwide

Optimistically, though, I believe I can hold on to my “mother” English tongue (Canadian English) and still be competent at ELF. This requires tools like dictionaries as well as an open mind and a willingness to learn.

I celebrate the enormous flexibility English offers, and I don’t think we should feel threatened by the evolution of English. We have to remember that the purpose of language is communication, and there are many types of communication. A global English can be better than “traditional” English by simplifying the parts of English grammar, spelling, and usage that are illogical or unnecessarily difficult. All global English communicators will need to become familiar with Plain English principles. People will learn standard English terms and expressions used in their area of research or business.

Those of us who love the most difficult English, in all its idiomatic, metaphoric, multi-clausal imaginative glory, will still be able to read the great works of English literature. I am also confident that new writers will display creative and technical mastery of English in new works of literature, whether they be novels, stories, poems, or other formats that take advantage of the interactive possibilities of today’s digital world.

You can help Dr. Dollinger in his research about global English usage by completing his survey at It takes about 18 minutes. Do your bit!

Social Media & ePublishing with Sean Cranbury at Canadian Authors Vancouver

Canadian Authors Vancouver Meeting, March 12, 2014

Social Media & ePublishing with Sean Cranbury

by Nancy Tinari

On March 12, 2014, Canadian Authors Vancouver had the privilege of hosting Sean Cranbury, creator of Books on the Radio, as the guest speaker at their monthly meeting.

Cranbury overwhelmed his listeners (in a good way) with his energy, his humour, his obvious love of books, and his expertise in the subject of ePublishing and the role social media plays in it.

About Sean Cranbury

Cranbury began his presentation by summarizing his experience in books and publishing. His career in books started out in the late ‘80s when he worked for an independent bookstore, Chapman Books. He subsequently also worked at Sophia Books and the Virgin Megastore in downtown Vancouver.

One of his key achievements was starting the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series in 2010. In February 2010, as most people will remember, Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics. Cranbury realized that no literary events had been planned to celebrate the talent of Canadian writers during this world-class spectacle. So he started the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series, which showcased the work of 44 writers over four weeks during the time of the Olympic competitions.

Cranbury also created Books on the Radio, a radio show that airs on the Simon Fraser University (SFU) station CJSF 90.1 FM. You can find more information about Books on the Radio and the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series at On Twitter, use #BOTR.

Cranbury also works with the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SIWC) and put in a few plugs for that event during his presentation. SIWC is an international literary festival where writers can meet other writers as well as agents, editors, and marketing experts. Writers can sign up for 15-minute blue-pencil sessions with an agent to pitch their book. You can find SIWC at . This year’s conference takes place October 24–26, 2014, with master classes on October 23. The conference hosts a writing contest that includes several categories and cash prizes; submissions are $15 each. You can read more about the contest at .

Cranbury’s rave about the Internet

Very early in his presentation, Cranbury raved about the Internet. He said something like, “It’s the biggest achievement of mankind since the invention of language.” According to him, the Internet is ending the traditional business model.


Most people and businesses talk about piracy of content—in whatever medium, whether it is the written word, music, photography, etc.—as being a huge problem. Cranbury energetically opposes this view. He believes the books that are shared the most online are also the ones that sell the most! Sharing is what sells books: online sharing generates enthusiasm and has the potential for exponentially-growing publicity.

Cranbury gave us a whirlwind oral tour through topics relating to self-publishing and social media that lasted just over an hour. He only had time to touch on each subject for five or ten minutes, but it was clear that he could easily provide an hour or even a day-long seminars’ worth of information on every topic. I will briefly mention some highlights of his talk.

Social media platforms: which to use?

Cranbury emphasized the power of social media throughout the evening. At the beginning of his talk, he asked if any audience members had heard about a recent forum on Canadian literature that took place in Montreal. Only one audience member was aware of this forum. When she volunteered that she had learned about it through a post by a Facebook friend, Cranbury leaped in, saying, “Aha! That’s how it happens!”

However, it  was reassuring to learn that he doesn’t think it’s necessary to use every platform out there. His advice was to use the minimum number of tools necessary to do the job. He recommended Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress. For book lovers, Goodreads is also helpful. Someone in the audience asked Cranbury about using Google+. He said it is used only by select groups; you can ignore it unless you’re  interacting with these groups.

The key idea is to use social media to build relationships that will help you in your work. And even though he is keen about the Internet, Cranbury acknowledges the irreplaceable value of meeting others in person.


This is a huge topic, but Cranbury specifically mentioned the website for Do It Yourself (DIY) publishing. This company was started by Hugh McGuire. Cranbury quoted a recent tweet by @hughmcguire; it was something like this: “The distinction between ‘the internet’ & ‘books’ is totally arbitrary, and will disappear in 5 years.” is a one-stop publishing platform. It is free unless you get the premium version that will give you custom templates, cover design, editing help, or access to a distribution network. The free service will allow you to produce online file forms (ePubs) for various devices. However, Cranbury stressed the need to have a properly-designed book; you can’t just plug your Word file into the site without formatting it carefully.

I did some research by looking at the Pressbooks website. It is a nicely organized, simple website that is easy to navigate. The site includes some guidance and links to extra help for writers who are proficient with software and want to do everything themselves. The free version includes a choice of three templates plus the option to individualize templates, but it does not include editing or cover design. Paid versions of the service are available, varying in price between $300 and $700, depending on the length of the manuscript and the number of images included. A custom design option allows you to create a unique in-house style, but this is expensive! It costs $2,500 or more to have a theme built from scratch.

You can also pay for a distribution network. Cranbury stressed that this is extremely valuable for writers. Starting at $99, authors can have their book listed on the databases of the books giants for distribution into Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.

Print On Demand

Cranbury mentioned the growing availability of POD. There are machines all over the world that can print your book.

Cranbury is a big fan of this site. It’s an audio-sharing site, and you can get a free account that allows you to share a few hours of audio a month. Soundcloud is mainly a music site. When I explored it briefly, I was overwhelmed by the choice of music available. The site offers new musicians great exposure, but Cranbury pointed out that it can be a great tool for writers as well. You can do readings from your book to generate publicity. Also, you will attract new followers by catering to an audience that prefers to listen to content rather than read it. Podcasts are very popular, and people can listen while driving or doing other activities that can’t be mixed with reading.

Again on the subject of piracy, Cranbury offered a fascinating tidbit: “More vinyl records are being sold now than ever before in history!” They come with free, sharable MP3s. This demonstrates, again, the value of sharing.

Internet listening posts

Cranbury talked about metrics briefly, and stressed the importance of finding out how people are looking at your content, who they are, how long they spend on various pages, etc. One example of an Internet listening post is Google Alerts. This is a great way of following the topics and people you want to keep updated about. You can use your own name as an alert to see what people are interested in about you and your content.

Responsive design

Ensuring that your content looks good on all types and sizes of reading devices) is critical.

Thank you

Thank you, Sean Cranbury, for a most entertaining and informative evening!

Sean Cranbury can be contacted at the following: 778-987-8774


Printing and marketing a quality self-published book: an evening with Craig Shemilt of Island Blue Print Co.

On Wednesday evening (October 9, 2013) Canadian Authors Vancouver meeting attendees had the privilege of meeting Craig Shemilt of Island Blue/Printorium Bookworks. Shemilt’s family has been in the printing business for over 60 years, and his expertise in the rapidly-changing printing and publishing industry was evident.

Island Blue Print Co. is now 101 years old. Printorium Bookworks is the book printing part of the business. (You can visit the website here.) The company produces books for about 200 Canadian publishers and 3,000 independent authors.

How can self-publishing authors end up with a professional-quality book? Using a friendly, no-nonsense style, Shemilt gave CAA writers a wealth of simple but critical tips about preparing their books for printing:

1)      Professional help: Pay for the services of at least two professionals: a designer and an editor. Your book’s success will depend to a large extent on its appearance, especially the front cover, back cover, and spine. Bookstores will not sell a book that isn’t edited.

We wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, would we?

Shemilt had our full attention when he said that a book placed in a bookstore has only fifteen seconds to capture a potential buyer. He broke it down this way:

  • Unless it gets a special display, the only part of the book that can be seen is its spine. The title has 1.5 seconds to grab the buyer’s attention.
  • Next, the buyer looks at the cover and takes three seconds to reject the book or look further.
  • Next, the buyer spends 10.5 seconds reading the back cover before deciding whether to open the book and investigate its contents.

2)      Formatting:

  • Use single pagination, not spreads.
  • Remember that page one (and all odd-numbered pages) will be on the right side of your book.
  • All images must be 300 dpi or they won’t look acceptable when printed.
  • Use 10-12 pt type; 14 or 16 pt for children’s books.
  • For full-colour pages, add an extra ¼” the entire way around the actual page size so the colour will be sure to “bleed” right to the edge. Otherwise your pages will print with a white line somewhere at the edge.
  • The “gutter” side of each page (the inside) should have a margin of at least ¾”. The outer side of the page should have a margin of at least ½” but 5/8” is the more standard size.
  • Most books look better with a larger margin at the bottom than at the top.
  • Shemilt emphasized that the size of a book can greatly increase the cost of printing. 8 ½ x 11” size is fine in portrait orientation, but a book this size printed in landscape orientation costs a lot more to print because it can’t be done on Printorium Bookworks’ equipment. Shemilt advises authors not to design a book beyond 8 ½ “ wide unless they expect to sell their book for a premium price that will cover the much higher cost of printing.

3)      Other steps before printing:

  • Include a copyright page. If you’re not sure what should be on it, just look at a traditionally-published book and copy the copyright page (laughs inserted here).
  • Get an ISBN number. It’s free. There is a lot of information to fill out in the application, but you don’t have to get every detail about your book perfect—you can edit the information later. You can apply for an ISBN number through the “Design and Layout” area of Printorium’s website.
  • Most designers have the proper software to create barcodes for a book’s cover. They will charge about $25 to add a barcode to a cover. It’s not a good idea to download free barcodes because they often don’t print clearly enough to work.
  • You should use the most recent software to convert your book to a PDF for printing. This process flattens all the transparency levels in your document and, very importantly, embeds all fonts. Island Blue’s printers don’t have every font that exists, so if you have an unusual font it needs to be embedded or it won’t print looking the way you expect.
  • Don’t steal fonts—these fonts will not print.

Digital vs. offset printing

Printorium Bookworks does only digital printing. Shemilt explained the differences between offset and digital printing:

  • Offset printing becomes more economical than digital printing when the run numbers exceed about 1,500 copies.
  • However, digital printing has several advantages over offset printing. It allows independent authors or small publishers to print very small numbers of books at a time, allowing authors to manage cash flow and reduce risk. Printorium Bookworks will print as few as twelve copies of a book. (Shemilt noted that very few self-published books sell more than a thousand copies.) Moreover, Shemilt’s company can get proofs to an author only 2-3 days after receiving a print-ready file. One hundred books can be printed in five days. By contrast, offset printing takes six weeks to three months.
  • Digital printing produces a very high-quality book. Printorium Bookworks uses paper according to publishers’ requirements, typically 60 lb or 70 lb recycled paper. They print with carbon black toner, which prints a pure black colour as opposed to the blue-black or brown-black choices of offset printing.

Should you produce an e-book version of your book?

Shemilt mentioned that many people (himself included) still love books as physical objects to look at and be comfortable reading. However, he recommends making your book available in both printed and e-book formats. The e-book market is growing rapidly. In the summer of 2013, e-books represented 26% of book sales; some experts think that number will rise to 50% by the summer of 2014.

Files need to be converted to ePub, Smashwords and PDF formats for e-book publication. Many people learn to do the formatting themselves, but Shemilt recommends hiring a designer who’s an expert in this. They will charge roughly $200 to do the conversion and will save you weeks of time.


Island Blue book mark

Craig Shemilt says bookmarks (rather than business cards) are a writer’s best marketing tool.

Most writers who self-publish are aware that writing is only the first step of the process. Shemilt went over the subject of marketing very quickly, but made these main points:

Google to find out more about your competition and the markets they’ve found. What is your book related to? Use your research to know how to target your potential readers.

Lots of places besides bookstores sell books these days. Market your book to a wide range of stores, depending on your topic or niche.

Readings don’t have to take place only at bookstores or writing festivals. Legions and weekend markets are two other places Shemilt suggested. He emphasized that you should select the sections you read carefully to keep your audience in suspense and make them want to buy your book!

Social media is a mandatory part of marketing these days: Use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Create a website or a blog for your book.

Bookmarks are a writer’s best marketing tool! Give them out like business cards—people use them.


Visit the Printorium website at . It tells you everything you need to know about printing; you can even download a copy of the Printorium Printing Guidebook.


Current trends in book publishing: Robert Mackwood presents at the Canadian Authors Association, Vancouver

On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, I had the privilege of hearing literary agent Robert Mackwood give a presentation to the Vancouver Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA).

Mackwood is a literary agent with thirty years’ experience in book publishing, including fifteen years working for both large and small publishers and fifteen years as an independent literary agent and consultant.

His fast-paced, entertaining talk provided an insider’s take on current trends in publishing. His advice could be helpful to many authors, especially those writing their first book and wondering about self-publishing. This post will highlight some of his points.


• There are no mid-size publishers left in Canada, only the huge international publishers and very small independent publishing houses.
• The number of independent bookstores has been decreasing for some years and that trend will continue.
• Books sales are down.

Beware of who you choose to be your literary agent

Mackwood estimates there are only about twenty legitimate literary agents in Canada. Anyone can claim to be an agent. A person’s track record is crucial. Ask your potential literary agent, “What have you sold?”

Challenging assumptions: the facts

• 95% of books are not represented by an agent.
• Agents don’t do editing or marketing. Agents are an arbitrator between an author and a publisher.
• A bestseller is a book that is on a bestseller list. Mackwood talked about the often-quoted (but incorrect) statement: “A Canadian book is a bestseller if it sells 5,000 copies.” He explained that this misperception originated when someone asked Jack McClelland, sometime in the 1970s, how many copies a book would likely have to sell in Canada to make it onto a bestseller list.
McClelland’s reply, “About 5,000,” doesn’t mean that any book that sells 5,000 copies is automatically a bestseller. Mackwood joked about the guy who paid to have 5,000 copies of his book printed, and then claimed to have written a “bestseller”.
• Don’t write a book if your main goal is to make money. Write a book if you have an idea or topic you feel strongly about, and you want to make a contribution.
• No one writes a bestseller in thirty days. Don’t believe it.

Advantages of traditional publishing

• There is still prestige attached to being published by a recognized publishing house.
• The publisher will provide some editing and marketing services.
• The publisher will cover printing costs.
• The publisher will provide an advance against royalties (though advances are getting smaller).

However, Mackwood is very much a promoter of self-publishing. It no longer carries the stigma of the old “vanity press”, when people printed books that no publisher would touch. These days, many bestselling and critically-acclaimed books are self-published. Many started out as self-published books and were then picked up by traditional publishers once they had become successful. The quality of self-published books can now be as high as traditionally-published books.

Advantages of self-publishing

• Author control.
• Building your own brand—a book is an excellent tool for this.
• Much better royalties—but you have to work a lot harder, at preparing your book for print, marketing, and distribution. (There are independent distributors who, for a fee, will get self-published books into stores. However, they take a large chunk of the profits. The danger is that stores retain the right to return unsold books. When books are returned, the publisher—in this case, the author—loses money.)
• Online marketing opportunities can be good—if you learn how to use them.
• Happiness. Most people experience a huge sense of satisfaction when they can hold their finished book in their hand.

E-books and other predictions about the future of books

• The number of e-books sold in the United States is getting close to the number of print books sold.
• One advantage of e-books is that they allow older books to be continually available. Before, backlisted books would be removed from a publisher’s list if they didn’t sell at least thirty copies a week. Then they would be out of print and unavailable anywhere except libraries or used bookstores.
• The average price for an e-book now is in the $6.99–7.99 range. There are plenty of e-books available for 99 cents or for free. Authors usually get a 25% royalty.
• It’s still the “Wild West days” of e-book publishing. What will people be willing to pay for e-books? Should writers specifically gear their books to the e-book market? We don’t yet know the answers to these questions.

Robert Mackwood is now doing more consulting work, helping authors who need guidance and direction with their book ideas (in contrast to trying to sell an already-completed book to a publisher). He can be reached through his Seventh Avenue Literary Agency website at .


Ryan Vetter speaks about self-publishing e-books through Wundr

Ryan Vetter, founder of the self-publishing company Wundr ( ), also spoke at the same meeting to tell us how his company can assist writers who want to self-publish an e-book. His company has produced writing software called Playwrite that allows writers to create a book from scratch and end up with an ePub file, with no need for file conversion.

The company also offers writers many other services, such as a wide selection of high-quality, affordable book covers (including animated covers), free ISBN #s, and lots of advice about how to market e-books and ramp up sales. Wundr’s basic fee is 5% of royalties, but they can provide more extensive marketing packages to writers for a higher fee.

Vetter mentioned that the two things critical to successful e-book sales are
1) The cover image.
2) A superbly-written preview of the e-book—this preview consists of about 10% of the book’s content, and is offered to readers for free to entice them to buy the book.

Someone in the audience asked Vetter if Wundr provided editing services. He replied that they did, but it was an automated process. As an editor, I didn’t like the sound of that. I know there are excellent editing software programs available, but reputable editors don’t work with software alone. Many editors use software to be efficient at mundane tasks of copy editing and style consistency, but good editing is much more than that.