Is the rise of self-publishing good for writers?

Here at the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, we constantly wrestle with the issue of self-publishing. Some of our members believe we should be strong advocates of self-publishing as the new revolution that will save writers, while some others see it as a scourge on writing and literary culture that we should oppose at all costs. The range of opinions among our membership probably runs the full gamut in between. I think it’s healthy to get a diverse discussion going about the pros and cons of self-publishing. 

The following is a guest post by Lee Kvern on the subject:

Up until now I haven’t had a real view on self-publishing. I have always understood the need for people who are writing to be connected with people who are reading. What writer doesn’t require an audience? But in light of the huge market push (along with huge cost to produce a self-published print book), I now have an opinion. (E-books might be another story, certainly more viable in the cost versus what-you-get comparison.)

In my humble opinion, the self-publishing industry feels predatory, yet another way to suck money out of the already behind-the-eight-ball writer who must work one, two jobs in order to pursue (at best) this expensive hobby of writing. I’m against anything that markets to writers as opposed to for writers. I realize how enormously difficult it is to get a publisher, but for me, I would far rather take that 3-5 thousand dollars (for a print book) and go to a writer’s retreat, enjoy the fine company of writers, hone my craft, have readers that can offer me feedback that will help me grow as a writer.

I’ve seen far too many friends sucked in by the promise of self-publishing marketing schemes that leave them with boxes full of books in their basements that they can’t move or get reviewed, or submit to awards where your book might at least have a chance at being read. I’ve seen friends disappointed and bruised and disillusioned by the self-publishing industry. I’m not saying that publishers don’t have their own brand of disappointments (royalty cheques for one, and the sheer amount of time and money needed to get your book out there) but the difference being that between you and the publisher, you just might get a reader or two outside the neighbourhood.

Ok, that’s my rant for today, and I may live to eat my own boots/shoes on this whole self-publishing thing, if it’s truly changing the writing industry the way people think it will. More, I’m saying enjoy the process, embrace the supports in place for writers (Go to the Banff Centre or any other wonderful retreat!!) that serve to encourage, enhance, hone your skills and put you in the fine company of other writers. You can’t ever go wrong with that. And besides, who doesn’t want a basement full of writers (as opposed to books that you give away for Christmas – by the way, please put me on your list.) I promise you will be farther ahead and happier in the company of birds of the same feathers at writer’s retreats than handing over your hard-won money to the self-pub marketeers.

Lee Kvern is the 2012-2013 W.i.R. for the Canadian Authors Association (Central Alberta). You can find her on Twitter as @LeeKvern and on the web at:

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Updated responses about arts policy from Calgary MLA candidates

ArtsVote Calgary has updated responses from a considerable number of political candidates on arts policy, and the particular needs of their constituents when it comes to the arts. Find out what your local candidates have to say (click here). So far, responses have come in from:

7 Alberta Party candidates

5 Evergreen Party candidates

13 Liberal  Party candidates

10 PC Party candidates

2 Wildrose Party candidates

You can also find responses from Senate candidates here.

Posted in arts & culture policy, provincial elections | 2 Comments

Arts forum in Edmonton this evening

This from the Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton:

Have a heart-to-heart chat with Alberta election candidates about their parties’ visions for arts, culture and heritage in our province.

PACE is organizing an Arts Forum for this Friday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jefferson Room at the Prince of Wales Armouries, 10440 – 108 Avenue.

Bring your arts, culture and heritage questions with notebooks  and pencils to the Prince of Wales Armouries this Friday.  Tell all your professional artist and arts supporters friends to come, too.  Let’s impress upon all these candidates how important arts, culture and heritage is to all Albertans.

Party representatives confirmed so far:

  • Alberta Liberals – Laurie Blakeman
  • Alberta NDP – Nadine Bailey
  • Alberta Party – John Hudson
  • PC Alberta – Heather Klimchuk (current Minister of Culture and Community Services)
  • Wildrose Party – TBA

For more information, check out the PACE website.

Posted in arts & culture policy, Government of Alberta, provincial elections | 1 Comment

Who has a vision for the arts in Alberta?

PACE (the Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton) and ArtsVote are active arts advocacy groups in Edmonton and Calgary respectively.

Recently, ArtsVote collected responses from the various provincial party representatives, querying them about their vision for the arts in Alberta. They asked the following questions:

  1. What is your arts platform?
  2. What do you believe is the province’s role in fostering the arts?
  3. What do you believe is the role of the arts in education?
  4. What plans do you have to provide provincial funding and/or encourage private funding for the arts?
  5. Any other comments?

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ArtsVote All-Candidates’ Forum in Calgary

For those of you who couldn’t be there at the ArtsVote forum in Calgary two weeks ago, it’s well worth having a look at the video from this event.

There were some interesting policy proposals that were put forth, and it was also interesting to see which policies or specific commitments candidates chose to be silent on.

The event was well-attended, and there was a strong media presence. A brief report can be found here, but of course it’s much more informative to watch the entire event.

A few things struck me about the conversation that day:

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Alberta writer Myrna Kostash’s take on voting for cultural policy – join in the discussion


reposted from:
[Posted on March 29, 2012 by ]

If you’re an artist in Alberta (read, self-employed with no taxable income), who should you vote for? For a lot of us that would be a no-brainer, in the sense that we just go on voting for whoever we supported the last time, no questions asked, or don’t bother voting at all: “I mean,” we say, “what’s the point?”

But in this coming election, there are actually a number of parties in play who weren’t there the last time we went to the polls. Are any of them worth your artist’s vote? Or the vote of any citizen who believes that artistic production contributes to a community’s sense of well-being?

Forget about Alison Redford’s Tories and the Wildrose: hobbled by an ideological commitment to no new taxes – that heinous scheme to snatch wealth out of the cold, dead hands of their benefactors – and barring a sudden gush of new wealth pried out of the hands of men and women at the slot machines, there will be no new money for the arts in Alberta. Given the foregone revenue of some $55 billion lost to “overly generous royalty cuts” in the oil and gas sector (quoting a Parkland Institute Report), the government can only deepen its addiction to those slots.Image

The Dippers, though, “get it”: they understand the symbiosis of “arts and culture” and “quality of life,” and the importance of funding the one so that the other may also thrive. They’ve noticed that the main organ for funding artists and arts organizations – the Alberta Foundation for the Arts – has never entrusted decision-making to an arm’s-length agency but kept it exclusively with a Board of patronage appointments. And that the ministry that oversees arts and culture policy carries a double-barreled label that includes “community spirit” in its mandate. This is a common dodge of governments everywhere (even during sainted NDP regimes in Saskatchewan), to hitch to the arts miscellaneous other “soft” responsibilities, from sports to provincial parks to human rights commissions, as though only lumped together are they worth a seat at the cabinet table.

So an NDP government would create a separate Ministry of Arts and Culture, introduce $30 million in new funding (from increased royalty revenues?), allocate 1% of all large capital projects for the commission of public art, and increase or reintroduce a fine arts curriculum into elementary schools. All good ideas. You could safely vote for a Dipper.

The Liberals devote pages to describing their commitment to arts and culture policies and initiatives (I detect the creative hand of Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman here) and it’s all exciting. “Great art,” they announce, “brings joy, hard questions, understanding and new challenges,” and call for an “Alberta Renaissance.” Re-naissance means re-birth, nicely giving the nod to the generations of preceding creative geniuses in our midst who have helped shape the contours of our self-image as Albertans even while starving in garrets from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie. Liberals would legislate Status of the Artist provisions for collective bargaining rights for arts professionals, create an Alberta Film and Television tax credit, establish an Alberta Publishers’ Fund, and would “immediately double the budget” of the AFA “and triple funding within three years.” And I particularly like their proposal to set up a $500 million endowment fund for the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, “parallel to existing endowment funds for medicine, engineering and the sciences.” (In the current intellectual environment, which treats the arts and humanities with contempt, this is refreshing thinking.) However, it is not clear where a Liberal government would look for funds to fuel all this. We can always dream along with them.

The Evergreens seem not to have any arts policy whatever; and the Alberta Party buries their boiler plate policy – “the Alberta Party will work to increase the role of the arts in the economic and social fabric of rural communities” – within their “priority #3, rural communities.” Urban centres, I guess, can take care of themselves.

But here’s the thing: in what I read from these parties, I did not read a single reference to the radical restructuring of our arts “industries,” mainly a result of the new technologies applied to the production and distribution of artistic work. Already we experience the shift from books in bookstores to books from on-line retailers, from gallery exhibits to digital and collaborative visual artworks, from cinema screenings to downloads from the internet, heck, even from traditional film shoots to cellphone movies, and from publishing houses to interactive on-line self-publishing sites. Nary a word about the new copyright legislation that is a direct threat to “creators’” income in favour of “users’” rights. Nor a word of protest against this new cultural ecology that requires artists to be self-promoting hucksters and clowns in a discount marketplace, their own agents and producers and editors, and trying to make a living in a society whose citizens now feel entitled to free stuff anywhere, any time and anyhow.

I don’t expect individual candidates for political office to have global solutions. But perhaps a “package” of left-of-Tory candidates could come up with original ideas for at least the current decade, brain-storming with artists (something we will never get with right wing parties). Check them out at

Myrna Kostash is a fulltime writer based in Edmonton, author of award-winning Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium. Her website

NOTE: after Myrna Kostash posted this, the Alberta Party posted their cultural policy here:
Any additions to this discussion, please send in the comments…
Posted in arts & culture policy, Canada, cultural funding, Government of Alberta, provincial elections | 2 Comments

Time to talk about the arts: upcoming ArtsVote Calgary election forum

ArtsVote Calgary is teaming up with the Calgary Public Library to host a discussion forum between provincial candidates and Calgary’s arts community. Now is an excellent time to talk about how we’d like to work with our government to enhance the arts and culture in this province.

The vent takes place THIS FRIDAY, March 30, at noon, at the central branch of the Calgary Public Library (616 Macleod Tr SE).

It’s going to be a full deck, with representatives from each of the parties. Here’s the full list:


Alberta Party – Kevin Woron
EverGreen Party – William Hamilton
Liberal Party – David Swann
New Democratic Party – Marc Power
Progressive Conservative Party – Sandra Jansen
Social Credit Party – Len Skowronski
Wildrose Alliance Party – Mike Blanchard

The event will be hosted by Russell Bowers, host of CBC’s Daybreak Alberta. Russell did a terrific job of hosting the recent Calgary Poet Laureate showcase, and will no doubt lead a fair and spirited discussion. Speaking of Poet Laureates, newly-minted Calgary Poet Laureate Kris Demeanor will perform, setting the mood for the event.

I’ll be in attendance, and will post a summary of the event afterwards. I really encourage as many of you as possible to come out, and help to make sure that arts and culture policy  is on the political agenda.

Here’s the link to the event not the ArtsVote website:

Posted in arts & culture policy, cultural funding, provincial elections | 2 Comments