Writer's Blog

A place where I write about the writing life and writing projects in progress

September 16, 2013

  • Dusting things off…
  • Oh good grief, did another month pass?

    Forgive me dear reader, it has been an insane summer. Work projects. Who’s 50 copy editing. Getting the final version of Who’s 50 off to the printer. Starting another writing project (which I won’t get into for a little while). Getting promotional plans for Who’s 50 ready…

    But Who’s 50 was out in time to have early copies sold at FanExpo Canada. And ECW Press went to town on it, even offering buttons of each of the Doctors (used in the book as icons for each entry). Here’s Robert’s dainty hand holding up a complete set…


    We’ve got launches happening in Toronto and Ottawa (that I’ll post about in due course) and a packed promotion schedule that includes conventions in Toronto, New York, Long Island and Chicago and several points in-between. And once the dust settles, maybe I’ll get back to talking about writing in general again. Hey, you never know…!

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    August 06, 2013

  • Who’s 50 in Progress #5: Stop the Presses!
  • So Who’s 50 is at the printer. We’re at the point where every change costs a small sum of money. (And we had to make a couple as it was!)

    And guess what gets announced this past weekend…? Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor.

    Suffice to say, that made my life quite busy. I was interviewed twice by the BBC: once on their middle-of-the-night live radio show on Live 5 before the announcement and afterward…on The BBC’s 24 Hour News channel!. Here’s some screencaps of me on a skype call from my living room!



    Somewhere in the middle of all this (thankfully not the live interview on BBC television) I suddenly have a thought.

    “Shit! Page 361 of Who’s 50!”


    Good thing it was at the printer. If the announcement had happened a week later we might not have been able to have changed that!

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    August 01, 2013

  • Who’s 50 in Progress #4: The ARC in Space
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    Now this was really cool. ECW Press sent us “Advanced Reader Copies” (or ARCs) of Who’s 50!

    Advanced Reader Copies are prototype books made from the uncorrected proofs that sent to reviewers and bookstores. The collapsed timeline of putting Who is the Doctor together meant that we didn’t get to do this, so this is a first for us.

    The thing about ARCs is that they tend to use off-cuts, as it were, of paper stock, so the end result is the ARC looks like a very beaten up copy of the book! Still, it’s cool to see.

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    June 06, 2013

  • Who’s 50 in Progress #3: Anatomy of a cover
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    Here’s my original idea for the cover of Who’s 50, which I gave to Carolyn McNellie who was working as the art director at ECW Press while their art director on maternity leave. Carolyn was also the cover designer.

    I wanted to do something similar to the Who is the Doctor cover which featured the eleventh Doctor running, but this time have a classic Doctor. I suggested the Fourth Doctor as he’s probably the most popular, with the tenth and eleventh Doctors also on the cover.

    I really wanted the image to, like Who is the Doctor have action in it, hence them running. I also was keen to have the action at a dutch angle, sort of like what I proposed we try on the Who is the Doctor cover.

    As with that one, I was ignored.

    In the end, I got the blue time vortex, the figures and the spot coloured item of clothing for each Doctor. The rest was sort of a series of compromises. Carolyn’s early effort looked like this…


    We liked the scarf going through the zero, but I hated the grey background, which didn’t look time-vortexy enough and the font was not beloved by anyone. And I hated the figure drawing of Tom Baker in particular (yes, we know the show so well we can tell what looks like the actors even in sihlouette!) which looked more like a male model cosplaying as the fourth Doctor!

    The thing about books is that the covers aren’t decided upon by the authors and the designer. The publisher weighs in heavily as their marketing team has to promote the books (We’re lucky at ECW to have an amazing team that includes Erin, their thoughtful and dedicated Marketing Manager amongst others) and convince booksellers to stock it. ECW were keen to see that we not over tweak a cover they liked the look of, but were willing to give us our head to request specific changes. So after some tweaking, some presentations to booksellers and other things we were given this:


    Which was a vast improvement. The logo was better, the figures looked more recognizably like the actors. We just asked for the figures to be slightly bigger, for Robert’s name to have a better font for the question mark (very improtant) and for Tom Baker’s scarf to be longer.

    The image which they’re using for promotion looks like this.


    We’re assured Tom Baker’s scarf will be longer on the final book [Update: August 2013 - it is!]

    Some other odds and ends… I tried to suggest a logo that used the Pertwee / McGann Doctor Who logo in an interesting way…


    And my plan B cover was this…


    Which would have had 50 elements of Who done as an icon.

    Of course I probably was influenced by the cover of Behind the Sofa, a charitable anthology of fan memoirs, so perhaps I was lucky we didn’t go along that route!

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    May 31, 2013

  • Who’s 50 in Progress #2
  • So much of a book actually happens in the editing phase. And thanks to modern technology that means the track changes and comments functions in Word. Which can be somewhat crazy in a book with two authors, a line editor and a copy editor. Here’s a page from Who is the Doctor copy edit:


    It’s a pretty mundane thing but the discussions in the comments can get lively. As witnessed in this conversation between our editor Jen Hale, Robert and myself about the Doctor Who character, the Watcher:


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    May 23, 2013

  • This tweet says it all…
  • From one of my favourite comic book writers Paul Tobin (him of the awesome series Bandette, with my favourite comic book artist Colleen Coover)

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    May 20, 2013

  • Who’s 50 in Progress #1
  • I thought once a week leading up to the publication of our new book Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who stories to watch before you die I’d show some of the work product in putting together a non-fiction book…

    First we start with a page of my handy-dandy notebook (I watched a lot of Blue’s Clues with my goddaughter when she was little). I write down stuff about episodes as I’m watching. It’s utterly random. Even where I write on the page has no sense to it (other than the fact I like putting things in different parts of the page; I’m a visual thinker I guess).

    Anyway, this is the page for the 1964 Doctor Who story The Aztecs. You’ll get to see what it turns into in a few months…


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    May 17, 2013

  • When I Created Doctor Who… (My weekend at Ottawa Comiccon)
  • So Ottawa ComicCon was a pretty great experience. Not the least of which is that I managed to get a beaten up copy of Mad issue 7 (while it was a comic, not a magazine) and a less beaten up copy of Mad issue 11. And I got a Master and TARDIS (from The Time Monster!) and a Seventh Doctor action figure, so it was a good time for my toy collection.

    There was an awful lot of sitting around and doing nothing… A lot of people came to get signed copies of our books, but a lot of people also just stopped by because a backdrop of the TARDIS was there for cosplayers to be photographed. And then there were sheer moments of mentalness, like when a guy came by and assumed because we were at the Doctor Who Society of Canada booth signing books…we must have created Doctor Who. We kept trying to correct him, but he kept shaking our hands and saying “When you started this in 1963, did you ever imagine you’d be sitting here 50 years later?”

    After he left, I turned to Robert and said “Does he think we’re 80?!?” We laughed for a good 20 minutes…

    Saturday afternoon we did our panel… and it was massive. It had over 300 people in it. Packed to capacity. The room was wide, and so there were several rows watching us on big screen TVs. It was wild…


    And midway through a Dalek army stopped by. The crowd fortunately seemed to be really entertained by us, which was nice.

    Someone video recorded the panel, so you can see Dr. Smith? and I in all our glory. My pwning a Dalek happens around the 28:30 mark…

    Afterward we were mobbed for copies of WITD, people wanted to take photos with us. It was insane. But in a good way. And by Sunday we sold out everything which was great!

    All in all a great weekend. My thanks to Cindy Peters of the Doctor Who Society of Canada for being so good to us. And thanks to everyone who supported us!

    Oh, one other photo to show off. The world is saved thanks to Doctor Who Hefner and the Grumpy Writer…


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    May 14, 2013

  • Resistance is Futile
  • During the copy edit of Who’s 50, my co-author, Dr. Robert Smith? Ph.D, insisted on turning “Sunday school teacher” into a hyphenate. I accused him of being a pedant. What follows is true. Or near enough.


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    May 09, 2013

  • Ottawa Comiccon
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    It’s funny. Even though Robert and I have lived in Ottawa for several years, we don’t do a lot of stuff to promote our books there. This changes this weekend as Robert and myself are attending Ottawa Comiccon.

    We’ll be hosting a Doctor Who panel at 6 pm in Meeting Room D. We’ll be talking about Who is the Doctor, Who’s 50 and anything about Doctor Who you want to ask us. So do stop by!

    And we’ll be signing copies of Who is the Doctor at the table of our good friends at the Doctor Who Society of Canada (you can’t miss them—they have a lot of Daleks on display!). We’ll be there to sign books at 1 and 4 Saturday and 12 and 3 on Sunday. We also have postcards for our new book Who’s 50 to give away.

    If you’re there. Do stop by and say hello. We love to talk to people!

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    May 07, 2013

  • Who is the Doctor wins Silver Medal!
  • imageAnd now for some news I’m really proud to share. Who is the Doctor has won a Silver Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards!

    You can see the results on the Independent Publisher website. We’re in the “Popular Culture and Leisure” category (that’s Category number 62, a long way down…). We lost out to a book about Michael Jackson and a book about Batman. I don’t know what that says about the state of popular culture or not. It’s a real amazing honour: 2500 books were entered and only 300 odd books were awarded.

    I wasn’t aware we were nominated for this (the kind folks at ECW press nominated us; our fellow ECW books Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys: The Songs that Tell Their Story and Walking Into The Ocean also won) so this is kind of like finding a winning lottery ticket on the ground. It’s wonderful, wonderful news.

    Best of all we actually get a real medal! Sadly I won’t be able to go to New York for the ceremony, but when it comes in the mail, I’ll show a picture of us wearing ours!

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    April 03, 2013

  • The business of writing book proposals
  • A question I get a lot from future or would-be authors is “How do you propose a book to a publisher?” Now when it comes to fiction, I have no idea. As near as I can tell the answer to that is: “submit your manuscript, get rejected, rinse, repeat, revise until someone says yes, if ever.”

    With non-fiction though, it’s a more interesting process. Whereas with fiction you need to have a completed manuscript (or at least some killer sample chapters) to sell the book, with non-fiction you can get away with a little more. You can often simply submit just a proposal; some will require some sample chapters, but fewer in my experience.

    In the case of Robert and my work in non-fiction writing, we have day jobs which require us to know how to write a proposal (Robert’s an academic who has to apply for grants; I work for a non-profit and often do fundraising writing), so we just try to describe in vivid terms the context, the basic idea, the basic outline for the book and some marketing ideas.

    The other thing we try to realize when we pitch a book is this: publishing is a business.

    You’d be amazed the number of people who don’t get this. People who think that a proposal is “Well I’m kind of interested in cabbages so I want to write 140,000 words on cabbages. Give me the money to write my book about cabbages” That’s not how it works.

    No one is in the publishing business as a hobby. And if they are, they should get out now. There are all sorts of business elements to publishing I dreamed of as a writer, ranging from making the book shorter so money can be made in foreign markets (they’re more apt to translate a work if it’s shorter) to coming up with a cover that major book chains will buy the book to having the product the right trim size so shipping it is easier.

    A publisher will sink thousands of dollars into a book before it goes to market: paying the author (and they bloody well should), paying the editor, paying a designer, paying a cover artist, paying people to market the book. Even if one person does many of these tasks (as often happens with small presses) there’s still a major outlay of cash. The question before any author writing a proposal should be: what is it about this book that is going to make a publisher risk several thousands of dollars to produce this book?

    If the best you can do is “I want to write a book about cabbages” don’t even bother.

    A proposal for a non-fiction book is a business proposal albeit a creative one. You’re basically giving a business case why they should publish your book.

    A proposal should be like the back cover copy of the book, only a bit longer: it needs to articulate what it’s about, where it will go and why it’s unique in a crowded market. (And if you can—this was an innovation of my editor Jen Hale—state how you can help market the book). All this should make visualizing what the end product will be like easy for the reader.

    There needs to be a simple distillation of what the book is about. With Who is the Doctor, Robert and I said, “This book is an episode guide of Doctor Who that’s fun.” With Outside In, Robert’s pitch to ATB Publshing was “This is not your father’s collection of Doctor Who reviews”. Who’s 50 was “What Classic Doctor Who stories should I watch if I’ve never seen it before?” All of them had a unique selling point articulated as part of the pitch.

    Everything has to be conveyed in a way that grabs the reader. I remember 10 years ago I showed a friend who was a former senior editor for McClelland and Stewart (and now teaches publishing at Humber College) a proposal for a book I wanted to write on Canadian TV (it never went anywhere both then and when I revived it 7 years later; some topics are just death for publishers). She took all my stately prose and rewrote it into something far better that began with “Did you know: One of the most watched Canadian TV series globally is… The Littlest Hobo?”  My friend was right. And while my proposal never went anywhere I did get feedback that my proposal did get read.

    Unless you want to self-publish (and I don’t honestly recommend that), you need to abide by the rules of business to get a book published. Chief among them is making any potential investor feel like you’re going to be something they can get a return on their investment.

    Basically, what I’m saying is… yeah, it’s a bit like Dragons’ Den. Good luck with that.

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    March 26, 2013

  • Who’s 50
  • With new episodes of Doctor Who (too few in my view) starting this weekend, I suddenly realize that we don’t have anything about our upcoming book here! I need to change that.

    This is what I’ve been neglecting my website, my social life and my poor spouse for all these months…


    ECW Press’ Fall Catalogue has a pretty good write-up about what the book is about: Take it away…

    Travel through space and time with this guide to the best of Doctor Who

    Doctor Who has been a television phenomenon since it began 50 years ago on November 23, 1963. But of all the hundreds of televised stories, which are the ones you must watch? Who’s 50 selects the best of the best of Doctor Who and elucidates behind-the-scene details, exhilarating moments, connections to Who lore, goofs, interesting trivia, and much, much more. Written to be enjoyed by those new-to-Who and by die-hard fans alike, Who’s 50 explores every corner of the imaginative, scary, and funny universe that has made Doctor Who an iconic part of science-fiction storytelling for half a century.

    As ever with marketing, it’s not quite right. It’s not really “the best” of Doctor Who. We make that quite clear in our introduction. We’re not doing “the best” stories. We’re doing the ones you should watch. Many of the stories we’ve selected in Who’s 50 are indeed the best. But other choices are much more idiosyncratic: they’re stories you should watch because they’re of interest, or they have some curiosity value, or they show something unique about Doctor Who. Again, they’re not necessarily the best stories; in fact, some of them are stories that one or the other of us disagree about their very inclusion in the book. But they’re ones we think you should watch nonetheless.

    While the book had to be written really fast (and still has a little bit left to write!) it was a lot of fun to go through selected stories in Doctor Who’s 50 year history. As we went through the book we realized that in the same way Who is the Doctor provides a primer on the Classic Series as we’re doing our New Series guide, Who’s 50 is an exploration of the very history of Doctor Who from its infancy in the 1960s to becoming must watch TV of the 2010s. I think it’s going to be a great book. I’ll let you know when I’m done editing it…!

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    February 14, 2013

  • Gallifrey 2013 (in the air!)
  • imageHere’s a new thing for the Gem Geek or Rare Bug writer’s blog: I’m writing this in an airplane as it soars at 10,000 feet on its way to Los Angeles, where I’ll be a guest at the Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles. Yes it’s that time again. It’s so exciting! I’m taking advantage of the wi-fi to get caught up on some blogging.

    I’m doing 4 or 5 panels (I don’t honestly remember!) one of which is on Writing and Editing Doctor Who Books where I’ll be talking with my co-author Robert Smith?, my dear friend (and co-editor of the recent publication Chicks Unravel Time) Deborah Stanish, ATB Publishing guru Arnold T Blumberg (the man who gave us Smith?‘s fabulous Outside-In. It’ll be a lot of fun. We’ll also be doing autographs at a couple of junctures, so pick up a copy of Who is the Doctor if you haven’t and get it signed (or if you have a copy, we’ll sign it too!)

    Gallifrey is an incredible convention and Shaun Lyon puts on something special every year. I can’t wait to land and get there!

    If you see me wandering the halls, feel free to say hi. I’d love to meet you!

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    February 01, 2013

  • Brushing off the dust…
  • Good grief!? What on earth happened? 2013? But it was 2012 just a minute ago…

    Hold on, just let me dust off this website…

    Sorry faithful internet hoboes. Basically what happened is this:

    Our deadline for our new book, Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who stories you should watch before you die (oh, wait… I didn’t even announce that…) turned out to be tighter than usual owing to co-author travel and the lateness of the commissioning. Consequently, the last two months of 2012 (and much of early 2013) has been spent frantically writing, re-writing, and arguing with Robert in track changes. Pretty much most of my focus went into that (and what was left went into my actual day job, where I’m also quite busy). As a result, this website has been really low on the list of priorities.

    But we’re getting near the end of the writing process and hopefully I’ll have some more time to put into blogging again soon. So stay tuned…

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