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Book smarts 

It’s every writer’s dream: to see their name on a book cover. We sit down with three recently published Halifax authors to find out if life changes after you’ve made it in print.

Meet Anna Quon, Ryan Turner and Zach Wells---three local writers whose work should slide its way onto your bookshelves soon, if it hasn't already. Quon, born in Halifax and raised in Dartmouth, writes and facilitates writing workshops, mostly for people with disabilities. Her first novel, Migration Songs, published just last year, was nominated for the Dartmouth Book Award (fiction) in this year's Atlantic Book Awards. Adopted Haligonian Turner---originally from Moncton---published his first novel, What We're Made Of, last year through Oberon Press in Ottawa, and it was shortlisted for the Metcalfe-Rooke award. Wells, whose second published work of poetry, Track & Trace, is nominated for the Atlantic Poetry Prize in the ABA this year, published his first poetry collection in 2004, as well as a children's book shortly thereafter.

As mostly newly published authors, I'm wondering what the experience in publishing has been for each of you?

Ryan Turner: I had no idea what to expect at all, but when I first found out about the possibility of being published, I spoke to a number of people trying to decide whether I was taking the right step and I think it led more or less where people told me that it could lead in terms of getting a book out there, being able to apply for certain grants that I couldn't in the past. So overall, it's been a somewhat humbling experience at some points, but a good experience.

How did you find it humbling?

Turner: I thought when I started that the publisher was going to send me on a tour at least of a few cities. But it ends up being, much of the work you do yourself. Much of the promotion you do yourself. I mean, I'm not someone who feels very comfortable self-promoting so I just really haven't done a whole lot of self-promotion. Other people say that you have to go out. I talked to one author who said you have to go to the flea markets and stand in the flea markets, which I'm just not gonna do. But I'm trying to find that---if I end up being with an independent publisher again, I'll try to strike that balance between, or I guess what I feel most comfortable with in terms of promoting myself.

Anna Quon: I had quite a wonderful experience with my publisher, Invisible Publishing. They've done a lot of promotion of my book and they arranged a little book tour to Kingston and Toronto, and they've just been extremely supportive in many different ways.

Zach Wells: I published my book about six years ago with Insomniac Press in Toronto and that happened kind of by accident. I met someone who liked my manuscript and knew the poetry editor and sent it to him, and it happened. So I probably have an unrealistic sense of the publishing world [laughs]. Unlike Ryan, I am pretty comfortable with the self-promotion convention of things, which you really have to be with poetry if you want to find any kind of audience at all, because there's not a whole lot of commercial demand there for it. When I signed a contract with Biblioasis [who published Track & Trace], there's nothing in it that says I have to roll up my sleeves and do my bit, but that's how I see the relationship as being, that they have facilitated the publication of my book and I have to do my part to facilitate the sales of that book, so they at least don't lose money on it. And primarily so that I can find an audience.

Have your lives changed at all since you've published your works?

Turner: For me it was my first book so I was excited about it---I mean, you don't think that things are going to change in a major way, but you feel like there's going to be a different feeling just inside you because you finally got to reach somewhere where you've been trying to reach for years. And for me it was a year before it got published. It just feels pretty normal. I don't get too excited about things. People are saying, "You have to be more excited," and I try to get excited. I'm not very excitable.

Quon: I sort of expected that things would become big and beautiful, and they have to a certain extent. I guess just the process of going through all the different steps to publishing and then touring with the book and then you know, being nominated for an award, it's all new, so it's kind of exciting, but really nothing huge has changed, and now I'm faced with writing my next book, and I think, "Oh this should be easier, this should be better," but it's the same old thing.

Wells: Start from scratch every time.

Quon: That's right.

Turner: I heard Philip Roth on CBC saying every time he starts a new book, he said it feels like it's his first again. It doesn't get any easier.

Quon: In some ways it gets harder, I think.

Wells: More than anything what's changed is that certain doors are more open than they were before. Opportunities. You get taken more seriously as a writer when you've got a new print or two under your name. In terms of changing my day-to-day life, in terms of how I perceive the work, in terms of how I feel about myself, no.

Is getting your work published in literary journals a step to the book publishing?

Quon: I haven't published much in journals. I do write some poetry, but my skin is very thin, I find it really hard to get rejection slips. So I haven't really gone that route. But I really admire people who do that route. I just think it's gotta be so hard. Maybe you guys don't get rejection slips, I don't know.

Wells: I don't, just because I never submit stuff to journals. I really can't be bothered, it's not terribly relevant to me. I do publish in journals sometimes but it's usually when an editor solicits something from me, or sends something off.

Turner: Talking about rejection, I keep track of all the stuff I send to journals, and I have about five----I colour it red if it gets rejected and green if it gets accepted---and my first about four pages are red. And then lately there's a couple green here and there. After your 45th rejection, you kind of roll with it. It takes about eight months to hear back, so by the time you hear back---eight months later---you feel like, well I'm better than that now. If they saw what I'm writing now, it would be different [laughs].

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