A&E » Arts

Whistler Writers Festival enters 13th edition

Literary Cabaret, Spoken Workshop, plus all-day self-publishing workshop join cooks for books and novelists Joseph Boyden and Ann-Marie Macdonald



Writer Martin Crosbie and traditional publishing are a chalk and cheese proposition — but that's OK with him.

At first, Crosbie would have been very happy to serve up his chalk with their cheese, but he discovered the resulting dish didn't cook.

"Absolutely, I wanted to take the traditional route," he says.

The novel he was pitching was called My Temporary Life.

"I tried. I wrote a book that I thought was pretty good and handed it out to beta readers, test readers. The results were positive. I was told they enjoyed it and wanted to read more.

"I ended up submitting to 130 different agents and publishers, and nobody wanted to publish it. In hindsight I can understand, it's a business decision and they didn't want to invest."

At the same time, Crosbie investigated self-publishing and decided to take that route.

"When I first put my book out (in 2011) I sold a couple of hundred copies, but there were authors who were selling tens of thousands self-publishing. I contacted some of them and they were kind enough to tell me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong," he says.

The changes he made allowed him to connect with more readers and by 2012 "it went nuts," hitting No. 4 overall in Amazon and No. 1 in romantic suspense stories.

It has now been downloaded 150,000 times.

He has moved on to self-publishing other novels and self-help books for writers.

Crosbie opens the 2014 Whistler Writers Festival (WWF) with an all-day workshop, The A to Z of Self-Publishing, at Millennium Place on Oct. 17, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It costs $85 and includes lunch.

Elements of self-publishing covered include content preparation, product presentation and marketing.

Crosbie's session is the first full-day workshop offered by the festival, now in its 13th year.

The festival combines readings and workshops in equal mix and is intended to attract fans of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as writers who want to work on their craft.

This year's headlining authors include Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden on Saturday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m. and Governor General Award winner Anne-Marie MacDonald on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m. They will be in conversation at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where many of the festival's activities are taking place.

Both have been interviewed in recent weeks in Pique (www.piquenewsmagazine.com for more).

The WWF's executive director Stella Harvey says she feels the festival has reached a new level in the past three years."Each year it has built up a little further," she says. "We have, I think, a good combination of well-known authors and emerging authors. The combination of those two is what makes the difference. It's a stepping stone."

So the writers festival is in a healthy place now?

"It feels that way. From what I have in terms of estimates, the financials, the ticket sales that we've had so far, I think overall it's in a healthy place. The goal, the challenge continues to be the fact that we have no paid staff, including myself. It can't last forever that way. I know I'm feeling it today; I'm exhausted," Harvey says.

"What keeps me up at night are the little pieces that need to fit into place."

For a festival holding 20 different events in three days to sustain a high quality through volunteers only is "not small potatoes," she added.

"Every year we do an evaluation and ask participants what they liked and didn't like. Part of the survey asks what people would like to see."

Harvey said 90 to 95 per cent of attendees say they enjoy the festival and would do it again, and their records show that 50 per cent are repeat attendees.

"We've had whole book clubs attending reading events in the past, or attend the brunches or a combination of events," Harvey says.

"Some of the new concepts have definitely come from that feedback. Some have come from wanting to expand the whole vision of the festival, make it as inclusive as possible."

This, she says, means keeping prices low, getting other artists involved and experimenting with different genres. Last year, it was crime fiction and this year it is comedy writers.

"I really wanted to do something around cooks with books, for example (the event takes place on Friday, Oct. 17). And it sold out — it's very popular," Harvey says.

"And when we first started this 13 years ago, the whole focus was on writers and developmental workshops for writers. We had one reading event. As the years have gone by, we added more reading events."

This year, there are three new reading events on the Saturday.

"There are more readers than writers. People come from out of town, and we were being told last year that there was something to do on Friday night, Saturday night and on Sunday night, but there was nothing to do in between. Now there are three reading events during the day on Saturday."

Harvey also hopes to engage more young people with a new spoken-word workshop, with poet Kevan Anthony Cameron.

Other workshops include Writing for Young Readers, Writing Descriptive Prose, and Getting your Novel Started.

Reading events include Writers of Nonfiction and A Comedy Writers' luncheon.

For more information and tickets visit www.whistlerwritersfest.com.