The book publishing seminar

I spent last weekend at a book publishing boot camp. It was hosted by Black Card Books and featured motivational speaker/author/publisher suave, moustache toting guy Gerry Robert.

A well dressed millionaire who grew up in social housing in west Ottawa.

A well dressed millionaire who grew up in social housing in west Ottawa.

A business coach suggested I go. “Want to work for writers”,  he said. “go where writers are.” And so I signed up without the foggiest sense of a book trying to escape from my soul (spoiler – there isn’t one) I even paid  (it’s a free weekend seminar) to get guaranteed seating in the front rows filled with determined wannabe authors.

One of the first things I leaned, while standing in line to get into the room on Friday night, was selling to boot camp attendees is not allowed. “Rude” “Unethical” Gerry says. “This is my seminar”. Fair point. The brochures stayed in my bag.  So much for my plan. I started thinking really hard about the topic for a book. Part of paying for the weekend included one-on-one time with an author consultant. Turns out that was voluntary. Phew.

The entire premise for the boot camp is how to write a short, non fiction book to use as a marketing tool to promote yourself and grow your business. You are not going to write the next Giller Prize winner after this boot camp nor are you going to write a Malcolm Gladwell or Elizabeth Gilbert best seller. You’re going to write a 100 page self-help or how-to book to (mostly) give away for free. I recommend this excellent blog post for the nuts and bolts of the weekend. It’s a winning formula – Gerry said so – and still applies. Only a few changes in the 15 months since that post was written. The price to join the author program has increased.  And Gerry made a second pitch on Sunday to recruit new speakers to the PABGR program. More little Gerrys to lead these three day boot camps. You pay to join the speaker program as well but in return you get a cut of all the people you upsell, who buy into the author program and you learn how to be a highly paid public speaker (not to be confused with a highly polished public speaker).

That's pretty much the money slide with his magic formula for writing a short book in 40 hours.

That’s pretty much the money slide with his magic formula for writing a short book in 40 hours.

My verdict. It was a very useful weekend. I learned a ton about content marketing and since I’m a small business – that’s a win. I learned a lot about mindset and positive thinking and since I’m human – that’s also a win. And I know my wife needs to write a book and use it as a marketing tool for her consulting and coaching business Sharp Solutions. Win!

I’m finally heading off on vacation so the blog will be quiet for a few weeks.

There was a lot in the boot camp about mindset and positive thinking. I have to go now, it's time to fill out my daily list.

There was a lot in the boot camp about mindset and positive thinking. I have to go now, it’s time to fill out my daily list.

The Historian, sources, info literacy and a Coldplay parody

Screen grab of the Agenda in the Summer from TVO.org

Screen grab of the Agenda in the Summer from TVO.org

I just listened to this episode, The Historian in 2016, from last week’s run of “The Agenda in the Summer” on TVO.  You can see the video here or download the podcast from your favourite app.

I agree with a lot of what Nigel Raab had to say. The internet has fundamentally changed what we think of as ‘history’ but also how we conduct historical research – any research for that matter. He noted that students today often stop at Google and ignore  – or worse – are oblivious about all the other resources at their disposal. Coincidentally I listened to that part of the podcast as I walked into the library at Carleton University to return a book. Right in the lobby was a librarian next to a billboard introducing students to their services and collections. It looked friendly and inviting. I hope she’s busy for the rest of the month.

One area I disagreed with Raab was his blanket assertion that the best resource on the internet is Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia.org

Source: Wikipedia.org

Period.

I was a little horrified. Especially since that comment followed a lament for curated resources and databases provided by academic libraries that may go underused in favour of the convenience of Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is a useful tool – but it has limitations and students need to be taught critical thinking skills and how to apply them. I hope professor Raab explains that to his students.

One  other quibble I had with the interview is Raab and host  Nam Kiwanuka confuse Google the search engine with the internet as a whole. Just another reason why information literacy is so important. What is information literacy? This short video (and amusing parody of Coldplay) will explain it all.

 

When I rule the world…..

Double whammy of fact checking horror

From the August 22, 2016 printed copy of Maclean's Magazine.

From the August 22, 2016 printed copy of Maclean’s Magazine.

Kudos to Maclean’s magazine for actually publishing this letter and acknowledging the awful job they did on this Mr. Franken’s obituary. The saddest part of this fact checking disaster are how easy it should have been to verify when the atomic bomb was deployed and what the actual role of the most notorious concentration camp of the Nazi era was. Do they not have an encyclopedia in the Maclean’s newsroom?

Even a simple Google search should have raised some red flags about the copy.

Right on the first page of search results.

Right on the first page of search results.

Wikipedia 1; editor 0

Credit: Moi. Screen capture.

Credit: Moi. Screen capture.

Ugh.

Google **

I just learned about this hidden Google command, “**”,  first reported by Search Engine Journal, Supposedly just typing ** (no quotes) into the search bar will return a list of businesses physically located close by. Based on my (one) quick test it  doesn’t look like a game changer to me.

Here’s what the search pulled up when I tried it yesterday morning from my home office.

Here's what I found typing ** into the search bar.

Here’s what I found typing ** into the search bar.

What struck me first is – none of these places are very close to me. I mean,  Arnprior is closer to me than Ottawa so I expected Arnprior businesses to be listed.

I'm showing the approximate location of my office. Don't want clients showing up at my door.

I’m showing the approximate location of my office. Don’t want clients showing up at my door.

The second thing I observed is I’ve never – to the best of my recollection – visited any of these websites with the exception of the Ottawa Sun. Clearly this search does not use my cache or any other data that Google collects about me. If if did, then Google should know I prefer the Citizen. As for the rest – they seem really bizarrely random to me. When I doubled checked my location in Google and redid the search the only change was to add the Indigo Hotel – another downtown Ottawa hotel – to the five results.

Anyone else tried **? Had better luck than me?

 

Here’s a fact checker nightmare

You know what keeps us fact checkers up at night? Little things like ‘where you were born’.

Below are three screen grabs of  three biography pages about a Canadian federal politician. In each instance the place of birth was, presumably, supplied by said politician.  The first one is from his official biography on the Parliamentary website and the others are from social media pages (the third photo is Facebook but I was hasty with my cropping)

I checked with Library of Parliament who published the first bio. Their information came from the MP’s office. Maybe there is a nuance between ‘place of birth’ and ‘hometown’ that I’m not familiar with. For the record  I was born in Iserlohn, West Germany but my parents lived on a Canadian military base a few miles away.  I left for Canada when I was 11 weeks old so don’t really understand the emotional pull of a hometown,  but I digress.

I checked the map – Beaupré and Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures are about an hour apart along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Maybe Beaupré was a fluke accident. I’m going to contact M. Godin’s office later today. Here’s hoping they don’t give me a third town.

Godinjpg

Since it’s #FOI Friday

It’s FOI Friday, the day to ponder all the information goodness that the aged Access to Information law allows any citizen (or permanent resident) to obtain from the federal government for a mere $5 investment. All you need to do is fill out this form Access to Information requested, submitted on the govt. issued form. It really is that simple. You don't even have to print it out.or – for some departments – submit your request online.

I had a call from an ATIP coordinator at a federal department today. Nothing too exciting in that except…. she was calling to be helpful. Super helpful. So helpful the advice poured forth from my telephone with such speech I could barely keep up and take notes. Young-Woman-shouting-into-telephone-Stock-Photo-angry-screaming

I mailed in two requests earlier in the week and she was calling (side note – Dear Canada Post. Why don’t cheques from my clients get to me with the same lightening speed?) to tell me about a completed request that was similar to my own but just outside my time frame. Did I want it? (“Uh. Yeah” was my response). The searchable database of completed ATI requests is a good legacy from the Conservative government. She directed me there. I told her I knew all about the database but had neglected to check this one time. Then she suggested I check her minister’s briefing book. Not the one’s posted to the website that you can download but the really big one that requires redactions that you have to request by email. She started reciting the table of contents to me and mumbling about different sections. I think she kept referencing my ATIP as well. It was hard to follow. At this point I wanted to reach through the phone, take her by the shoulders and implore her: Slow.Down.Breathe.

She’s sending me the released document as an informal request. So I’ll rejigg the request I sent in – she’s already sent me a draft text. How sweet is that?  Then she gave me the update on the monthly list of briefing notes to her minister and when they would be available on the “completed ATI list”. “Why pay for something if you don’t have to”, she said. That’s the main ‘pro’ to making an informal request. Someone else already paid the $5 and forced the department to do the legwork. On the ‘con’ side,  you cannot complain to the Information Commissioner if the department takes months to send you the documents they have already compiled (looking at you Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada)

One other helpful tip she offered: you can bundle about 5 ministerial briefing notes into one ATIP request paying only one $5 fee. More than that and you risk appearing greedy and the department will probably need an extension. Good to know.

Competitors

focus on hands suggesting collaboration

I’m a member of a local BNI chapter here in Ottawa (BNI is an international business referral networking organization). I just listened to the most recent BNI podcast from networking guru Ivan Misner about networking with your competition (listen or read the transcript here) and I thought to myself – ha! Info pros have been doing that for years.

I have a perfect example. Since attending my first Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP) conference  in April I’ve both referred work and subcontracted work to other info pros who are, technically, my competition. AIIP logoOne colleague I knew from our previous lives as news librarians and the other I met for the first time in April. And it worked out great in both cases. I think this type of ‘strategic’ networking and collaboration just makes sense for solopreneurs. So, check out the podcast and tell me how you can work with your competition.

I’ve been a terrible blogger of late. I’m trying something new – the short a sweet blog post. I got the tip from yet another podcast when a solopreneur interviewed a time management coach.

 

This week I love the phone

I loved this toy as a kid.

I loved this toy as a kid.

As a professional researcher the key tools of the trade are: 1 brain; 2 your computer; 3 your phone. This week I’m in love with my phone (not in a odd “Her” way)

Dude who falls in love with phone operating system. source: SSinsider.com

Dude who falls in love with phone operating system.
source: SSinsider.com

Let me back up a bit. I spent over 20 years as a news researcher covering federal politics and national issues. Long before email I regularly called government departments, politician’s offices, think tanks and experts hunting down information or people.  The responses ranged from helpful to obstructionist, the latter came mostly from government communications people. Actually it ranged from being ignored to obstructionist to helpful.  Just like emails that go unanswered now it is remarkable how many calls never get returned.

Calling institutions with the weight of my media organization behind me felt powerful. No general information line for me. As media, we have special access to most organizations.  I got to ask for the media spokesperson or the communications office. As an information professional I’m back in the regular line, calling the general information line most of the time. I still have a few media clients so I still get to use the express lane every once in awhile.

The first few calls I made as an info pro I wondered if anyone would talk to me. As media, institutions have to talk to me. (They don’t have to provide any useful information on my deadline – but that’s another rant) To my surprise, institutions will talk to you when you start the conversation with “Hello. I’m a professional researcher and I need your help.”  Mary Ellen Bates has an excellent chapter on telephone research in her book Building and Running a Successful Research Business.

This week alone staff from a cemetery, two funeral homes, an archive, a police department, a coroner’s office and some municipal departments all took my calls and answered my questions.

The art of the call

I’m a introvert (hence the library science degree). I don’t like talking on the phone. I remember spending 15 minutes psyching myself up to call a business or a government department. My face would go all blotchy and red, I’d stammer. The flop sweat would drip all over the script I wrote out to use as a security blanket. It was dreadful.

Pretty accurate depiction of my prepping for a phone call. Source: http://www.optuszoo.com.au

Pretty accurate depiction of me prepping for a phone call.
Source: http://www.optuszoo.com.au

But thank heavens for those pre-email years. Now, even though I sometimes spend 3 seconds giving myself a pep talk before dialling a number, I know it’s a skill that is a huge asset to my business. My years in a newsroom made for a great classroom. I listened to some of the smartest journalists in the land ask questions and conduct interviews.

Things I overhead included the preliminary chatter – the getting comfortable stage. A fine handbook for investigative reporters Digging Deeper calls this the icebreaker phase. The quip I tried with the woman at the coroner’s office fell flat and lifeless to the floor (appropriate considering the circumstances). She helped me anyway. I was effusive with my gratitude as I rang off.

Then there’s the deft use of open ended and closed questions. It’s important to know how to frame questions so as to encourage the interview subject to participate. “Who was there?”, “Explain how this works?”, “What happened next?” are all examples of this type of question. Silence is also important. Give the person time to answer. You never know what they will say just fill the void of dead air.  Always try and end the call on a positive or encouraging note and always ask some variation of  “Is there anything I’m missing?” / “Do you have any final thoughts?” / “Who else should I talk to about this?”

This is Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame. It's hard to find pictures of the fine reporters I worked with talking on the phone. Source: Bangor Daily News

This is Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame. It’s hard to find pictures of the fine reporters I worked with talking on the phone.
Source: Bangor Daily News

Email is a  great thing and the introvert in me leapt all over the new communication tool to reach out and ask questions. On email people can’t see your face get blotchy and the flop sweat as you type a question. But, email has some shortcomings. It’s easy for people to spin you and control the message.  It’s hard to discern nuance and context on email.  I find it vexing that many federal communications units, even if you call them, insist you write the question in an email. (Although the Access to Information junkie in me loves this part because an email is a government record while a phone conversation is not)

So, let’s sum up. As an information professional, telephone research is a superpower and I have the magic ring.

Don't just look at it, make a call!

Don’t just look at it, make a call!

 

 

How do you know if you’re charging enough

On Thursday I had great interviews with a partner and the business manager at two law firms. The purpose was to explore expanding my business into small and medium size law firms. They both provided me with very useful feedback. I believe I can help busy law firms do general research so they can focus on specialized legal research and other lawyerly activities. Let them focus on what they do best and not waste the time and energy of the junior lawyers.court room

And besides, how do they know where to find the best resources for general research.

The partner at the first firm is already a client. I wanted some feedback, based on my past work for her, so I can target my message. The best part of our interview came when she delicately suggested my rates were far too low. “Oh don’t worry” I told her, “They’ve gone up.”. She was delighted.

When your client says "you need to charge more"

When your client says “you need to charge more”