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Friday, 26 September 2014
Where Were We...Again?


Seriously, what the hell is going on?

Over the past year or so I have been updating the progress - or at times, the decided lack thereof - of the thrid in the series known as W3.doc. This may not be the longest dry spell I've ever had, but it's in the top, well, two or three. And overall, it may seem incongruous with my circumstances over the past couple of months or so.

For those of you not following along with every detail of my life, the day job involves working in the education sector. If you're a local reader, you'll know that our edcuation sector has, until very recently, been behind picket lines for five long weeks, three this year, the last two of last, punctuated by time off in the summer. If you're reading from afar, picture the marriage between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in The War of the Roses and you'll get a bit of a picture of the relationship between the two sides in this current dispute.


On the surface, it seems like these would have been opportune times for some extra productivity. With schools not in session for two weeks, followed by some vacation time, followed by three more weeks of unintended time off, I could have written three books. It's a good theory, one that makes me repeatedly beat myself up for failing to take advantage of so-called down time. Of course, the reality is actually much different. We spent the weeks behind picket lines more busy than I've probably ever been, undertaking those tasks normally performed by picketing workers in anticipation of the day when the doors would open. It was long, tedious and often tense as the dispute dragged on and cordial visits to the picket line became less welcomed. Yes, if you haven't figured out yet, I'm management (I prefer the term emperor but so far it hasn't caught on).

Coupled with my responsibility to my non-fiction work with my partners, which has also been much slower than I would like - and surely my partners would like - progress on the novel has been stalled for the better side of two months.

Yes, there are moments of despair, those angst-ridden self-talks about hanging up the word processor, abandoning the third book altogether and simply accepting the fact that I was a two-book wonder, better than a one-off fluke, but still far short of the writing career I had envisioned. Sometimes I even convince myself that it's okay. Two books is two more than a whole lot of people write. People who read them, fewer, to be sure, than I would like, seem to have enjoyed them. They received almost unanimously positive reviews, not just from my parents but from actual published book reviewers. Really, when I tried skydiving [pic] in my early twenties, I had two pretty successful jumps. On the third, I had an apparently not insignificant incident that I addressed during descent and lived to tell about. Perhaps jumping out of planes more than that third jump was pushing my luck; I haven't returned. Maybe W3.doc is my low-speed malfunction writing equivalent. Why push my literary luck?

And then a line of dialogue, or a relationship situation, or a fresh setting for Winston to wander through crosses my consciousness and I'm not quite ready to let him go. Truthfully, one of the key reasons I'm not ready to give it up is less to do with my need to publish and more to my unwillingness to let Winston go. I suppose that's a positive thing this character living in my head may have the abilityto push me forward. Or it may be a sign I need some serious therapy.

Thus, as we head into a new week, some new therapy. Okay, a re-launch of some previous therapy. Way back at the start of the year, I wrote about a plan that would have me committing to just twenty minutes a day. It was actually quite productive.

Until I stopped.

So, in the interest of meeting my 2014 commitment, or at least getting as close as I possible can, starting Monday, I will commit to the 20 minute per day regime. Let's see where I get.

Next week: the writer in residence


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Friday, 19 September 2014
What's That You Say?

 

Last week, I talked about one of my first forays into attempting to get work as a freelance feature writer. The first attempt yielded me an assignment that was never actually published. As  I recall, I got a small "kill fee" so I guess I can't entirely complain: I was paid for my first feature without it ever seeing print.

In the paper's defence, one of the earlier complaints is that it was on the advertorial side and looking back at it now, it's hard to argue with that. The piece does come across as being pretty favourable to the real estate company whose new approach to home sales it was reporting on. And I wasn't entirely objective: the reason I had even pitched the story was that my wife and I had heard about the company on the news and found it to be an incredibly effective service to use, a point I failed to disclose in the piece or to the editor to whom I had been pitching.

The fact that I had first already seen the story on the television news probably added to the paper's assertion that the piece was growing stale-dated. Now that I'm much more seasoned as a person, if not as a feature writer, it's much easier for me to see that.

In fact, in the interest of full disclosure not offered at the time, a number of the subjects in the story were not exactly untested witnesses I had managed to seek out: one of the realtors was an old high school friend, another was a former student, one of the customers was a close personal friend. In my defence, it takes time to cultivate reliable sources. And work. Who wants that?

Undeterred, I pressed on with the next story that I wanted to write. Okay, I pressed on about three or four months later. Sometimes I take longer than others to lick my wounds and heal my damaged pride. My next piece was about the death of live radio in Vancouver. I called it: The Death of Live Radio in Vancouver.

More full disclosure. In the course of my adult existence I have made a number of ventures into radio, from attending BCIT's Broadcast program - twice - to picking up the odd radio guest hosting gig. Add to that the local cable television talk show I had hosted for six and a half years and, well, I had connections. Another number of my sources weren't entirely strangers. Still, I felt I was on to something, and not just because I was more or less a failed broadcaster wanting to take out my existential angst by writing about the industry.

Okay, it was a little bit about that.

The gist of the piece was that despite the increasing number of stations in the Vancouver market, there was a decreasing number of hours of actual "live" broadcasting, in favour of pre-recorded or canned shows by fewer and fewer broadcasters, meaning much less work for broadcasters and those who aspired to be (there's the aforementioned angst). And there was absolutely no shortage of broadcasters willing to talk to me about it: from recent broadcast school grads desperate for work, to gravel voiced, acerbic witted David Berner to the legendary Red Robinson, everyone regaled me with great stories fromtheir days in the biz, which I thoroughly enjoyed but found not terribly useful. There was no essential conflict: in fact, uniformly everyone who would talk to me gave me more examples of the same thing. Anyone who might have given me a different perspective wasn't willing to talk to me on the record.

This, I realized, was what real journalists must go through: hunting for sources, pressing reluctant subjects to give a comment on the record. And it can be hard work. And I tried for at least a couple of days.

Eventually, I wrote the story anyway because, frankly, I loved stories about radio, I'd gotten some great tape and I'd gone to all that effort to transcribe it. Who cares if it wasn't balanced? So what if it was too inside, to use one of the editorial comments I received. Heck, who even cares if I was pitching a story I'd already done all the work on without being assigned by any paper or magazine willing to pay for it or even print it?

It was making novel writing seem easy.

Next week: Ugh. Novel writing.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Friday, 12 September 2014
Still More Adventures in the Freelance Trade

Last week I chronicled my decision to undertake freelance feature writing, if not as a full time replacement for the day job of the time, at least as something somewhat more than a hobby. And it was turning out to be more work than I had anticipated.

It wasn't as though I had had no previous experience in the freelance game. By that point I had been published in both the city's major dailies, in the country's national weekly newsmagazine and a host of others. Newbie, I was not.

The key difference was that primarily what I had published to date had been op/eds. I don't mean to cast aspersions on my colleagues (I feel I can use that term) who legitimately make their living in the editorial section but really, it's kind of easy. I mean, sure, you can't be writing stuff that's blatantly false but when one considers that the bulk of the piece is my opinion, how wrong can I get it? Observe something, see an issue in the news and then, you know, editorialize. It's a pretty sweet gig, I think.

Sidebar: when I was doing my Masters degree, I was attending the University of Oregon in beautiful Eugene [photo]. During our required research methodologies course, our professor told about the pressures of having to publish in academic journals when one was a professor, and how the process of peer review, edits, more review, more edits and still more peers doing more reviewing often could take eighteen months to two years before your article saw print. "Surely," I asked, "After all of that you must pocket a hefty chunk of change when it's all done?"

"No," my professor advised. "Often it's a small honorarium or nothing at all. It's the prestige of being published."

The previous night I had banged off a freelance op/ed piece in forty minutes and had been paid two hundred bucks. Screw academia.

But feature writing seemed to offer so much more depth. Not only would I be able to focus on a subject in which I was interested, I would hopefully bring others to have a better understanding and entertain them as well. I might even do some good.

I admit that I was lucky: my first pitch, while not picked up by a magazine - which is what I really wanted, I did get interest expressed by The Courier, Vancouver's thrice weekly news and culture paper. The story was about a company called erealty.ca, a then upstart Internet company that aimed to take advantage of a hot real estate market and greatly reduce the amount of fees paid to so-called full-service realtors. The genesis of the story was close to home: we had used the company to sell our town home when we wanted to have our new house built. Our initial purchase on the new home was rejected as it was dependent on the sale of our existing place using this untested new realty service.

It sold in three days.

I tried to be balanced. I interviewed traditional realtors, along with the founder of the new company and one of its competitors, One Percent Realty, that still exists today, while the central subject of my piece has since folded.

And as is apparently entirely common in the business, my piece was overnighted, or delayed by a week from when the piece was originally going to run. 'Okay,' I told myself, that'll give me a week to make it even better. And at the end of the week, it was overnighted again. And I made it better again. And then it was overnighted a third time. And for a third time I did some editing. And for a fourth week it was pushed back. And then I stopped editing. But each week I checked in with "my editor." For eleven weeks, the story was pushed back with the assurance that it looked like it would run in the following weekend's feature section.

Finally, eleven weeks after my original deadline, the editor informed me that my piece seemed a bit dated, the subject a bit stale. No kidding.

Next week: My next big story.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Friday, 5 September 2014
My Finest Feature

It was some time ago. It is difficult to narrow down the era specifically because I recall it was during a period I was particularly dissatisfied with my day job.

Those times number beyond that with which both hands and feet could render assistance.

At any rate, during one of my many attempts at re-inventing myself, sometimes known as developing an 'exit strategy', I fancied myself a freelance feature writer. This seemed to offer the best possible outcomes: I could work for myself (I was willing to concede I may need to keep the day job, at least part time, at least for a while), write about the things that interested me (surely untold numbers of readers would be interested in the the things that interested me), and no doubt I would be pulling in the big, Vanity Fair sized pieces that would have me not only earning enough for my wife and I to travel to all the haute destinations, but to be invited to all the best society parties when we got there.

How hard could it be?

Turns out it was harder than I had anticipated.

There were a couple of writers, even local ones, who came to mind as potential role models. These were people whose work I would regularly stumble across in publications like Vancouver Magazine (because I was planning to pretty much instantly become cool I was quickly referring to the publication in the much more colloquial Van Mag), The Georgia Straight, even, dare I dream, the Globe & Mail. Sometimes they reviewed, others they editorialized, but often they were putting out features on important people or issues.

I was humble enough to recognize I might need some training, at least to polish my pitches. So, armed with laptop and notepad, I registered for UBC’s freelance article writing class, taught by one of those freelance writers I had seen splashed across various Canadian publications, Jennifer Van Evra. Admittedly, I was a little concerned that Van Evra’s career included lowering herself to having to teach others – that was the day job career from which I was attempting to flee, after all. I reassured myself by believing she must surely be in it just to share the love with up and coming scribes, not of financial necessity.

I was so enthused by the class I quickly went out and bought myself a handheld tape recorder (yes, tape), which still resides in the bottom of my desk drawer in the home office, along with the adapter so I could record telephone interviews. And I got to work.

The first feature I attempted ultimately became the one I posted in this space a few weeks back. And the first thing I discovered about writing a feature was how much work it was.

As one who is, at no doubt clogging heart, lazy by nature, this came as more of a shock than for which I was prepared. First there was interviewing subjects. Getting the right people to speak “on the record,” so to speak, was much more difficult than I had intended. The story, about moving towards a more independent real estate transaction, perhaps limiting the role of realtors, I thought was relatively tame. Until, that is, I tried to get anyone in the real estate profession to talk to me, other than the proprietors of the two businesses who were coming at the industry from a new angle.

Then there was the practical slog of doing something with all the interview information I had acquired. My instructor, successful writer that she is, convinced her students of the importance of actually transcribing the tape we’d gathered so we had it to refer to when we finally got around to crafting the story. This took hours! And who knew, at least in practical reality, that interview subjects rarely acted so conveniently as to speak in usable sound bites?

Next week: Part II – Adventures in the Freelance Trade


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 21 August 2014
The Committee Has Spoken

My near life-long ambition to work as a sitcom writer, an ambition I recognize at the ripe old age of 46 is even significantly less likely than it was twenty years ago, still seems an occupation with which I would like to be connected. In a subsequent column I will, perhaps, unload the secrets of one of my series ideas. The modern sitcom workplace is one quite different than how I always envisioned myself working within it.

In a way, it's an experience I'm living through on my most recent writing pursuit. Today's sitcomms are no longer, if they ever really were, written by the lone individual, sitting at the typewriter...err...word processor...uhm...iPad....creating the assigned episode for production deadline.

They're written in teams.

In a nutshell, the average show has a showrunner who develops the major story idea, then assigns the breaking down of the story to a team of writers - and those teams can range from a handful to a gaggle - who, more or less collaboratively put together the week's episode. Sounds like a dream, right?

Except when one considers the fact that for the most part, writing is traditionally a fairly solitary endeavour. If the purpose is to get one's ideas, feelings, constructs out onto the page, how does one do that by first going through the some sort of filter with another writer - or multiple other writers?

I confess to having very little experience in this particular variant of the field. There have been a couple of times when, by necessity, I have undertaken such a venture and generally they have been related to television. Many years ago (you know you're getting older when you can use that expression in reference to having done anything besides just simply exisiting), I worked on a sketch comedy show that aired locally and, blessedly, appears to have been lost in the actual video tape world, not making it to YouTube [link]. As I recall, it was primarily acheived by a bunch of comics and actors with little writing experience, sitting around a room trying to make each laugh and then someone remembering to try to write some of it down.

Small wonder it was not the vehicle that would propel any of the participants to stardom (though a couple of them rode other buses to relative fame and good fortune).  

Another experience had me work as both writer and performer of comedic yet educational sketches for a pseduo-therapeutic program focused on sex education. Beyond those tasks my other principal role seemed to be the voice trying to convince the program's host and producer that "I'm pretty sure you can't say that on television, even if it is cable."

Working on our non-fiction book - with an admittedly self-imposed deadline looming - has been an unusual challenge for me. Instead of writing in the room, as is often done on creative projects, my writing partners and I have instead assigned ourselves sections of the project to write in isolation - a more typical writerly process, to be sure - which we will then assemble together into a finished project that hopefully won't look to anyone who reads it to be three different books cobbled together under one cover.

It's going well in the sense that we all seem to be on the same page thematically and share enthusiasm for the subject matter and the need that we are filling for our potential readers. But right now it certainly appears to be a book written by three separate people sharing the same cover. Finding a common voice with which we all write is proving to be, for me, at least, one of the more significant challenges in the initial editing process.

On the plus side, having commited partners - and having a commitment to the partners - can be a significant driving force towards getting the writing done with only lower degrees of procrastination than I often employ in working towards the completion of W3.doc. Of course I'm hoping the forward momentum on one writing project will help to chip away at the writing block that continues to get in my way.

Next week: Adventures in the freelance feature trade.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 14 August 2014
Oh the Digital World
Topic: Writing and Marketing

 

My website sucks.

From a marketing perspective, this is probably not information I ought to be sharing. True, given the public nature of the web, it's not like I could really expect to be keeping the site's suckiness a secret.

Let me give you an example: I just visited the site this morning and under the banner heading "Latest News" it describes my appearance to speak at a September event.

A September 2013 event.

This isn't to say that I haven't done anything to do with my writing in nearly a year. I have. Maybe it hasn't been my most active year but I have spoken at a few events, been at book festivals, etc. But I haven't publicized them at all. Apart from the blog portion of the site, which up until recently at least had weekly updated content, the website hasn't been changed. It's embarrassing enough that I'm thinking I should remove the feature that indicates when the site was last updated.

If only I could remember how.

At some point I have mentioned (see what I mean? the site is even un-search-friendly!) what I believe to be a pretty important piece of advancing my marketing: a new, much more frequently website. The difficulty lies in that the platform of my site is pretty limiting, even though I'm paying for the somewhat better performing version.

Here's what I do like about it: it's easy to use. For you young 'uns out there, raised since birth in the ways of the world wide web, it may seem difficult to comprehend that there are people out there who are not well schooled in the language of htmlFlash and whatever else modern websites use to create visually stunning interfaces to connect with web surfers. My site is a template and when I want to add new text, for example, I simply press the big button that says 'Add it Here.'

I also don't actually have to keep any files on my computer that need to be uploaded. Maybe that's old school but my first website was really just a series of Word pages that were uploaded and formed the pages of site. There was a certain ease to its simplicity and while it wasn't pretty, at the time it didn't need to be, its primary purpose being to inform my then students of the work they needed to complete in order to be fine young academics.

But that meant I always had to have those files with me: if I needed to update something and was at a different office, or using a different computer, I had to either reproduce the files from scratch or wait until later. Yes, in today's cloud and Dropbox world, keeping files with you is much easier than ever before.

For a disorganized person that can be brutal.

It's also clunky.

So far, I've found that the particular platform I use within my web host - there are a few of them - doesn't always play nicely with whatever computer or device I happen to be using. True, my laptop, for example, is a bit dated - purchased at the tail end of 2006 - but for word processing, it really does do the job and I'm still kind of attached to him...err...it. But posting even just to the blog is limited: if I use Firefox it will mostly cooperate, but even then occasionally the formatting can be a bit of a mess.

Even when I use my newer desktop iMac, Tripod's occasional unwillingness to be accommodating can be quite frustrating.

Worst of all is working with my iPad. If you're a regular reader you know I'm not infrequently writing from some locale other than home, be it the coffee shop or a hotel room. At the coffee shop, well, at least I can come home and post the column later on one of the aforementioned computers. But on the road? It's darned near unworkable. If you were to scroll back through previous entries you'd find the column posted while I was in Costa Rica via my iPad was a formatting nightmare on which I eventually gave up. It stands out like a digital sore thumb from the standard formatting with which the rest of my columns are adorned.

Maybe it's a Mac thing, you suggest?

Maybe but if that's the case I'm not okay with it. I'll change web hosts long before I give up OS for Windows. Besides, the site builder can be pretty clunky on my Lenovo laptop necessitated by the day job, though I can hardly blame Tripod for that: our ancient old systems up until this summer were running XP.

Bottom line: I need advice on the simplest, most efficient but slickest web hosting platforms to improve and upgrade my site and this is where you come in. At the risk of unleashing the hounds of the Internet, I'm looking for recommendations. So far I have been pretty impressed with the looks of Wix and Weebly, though I've read good and bad reviews for both. Here's essentially what I want:

  • ease of use (i.e. I can to it from anywhere without having to cart files around with me)
  • nice looking templates from which to choose
  • not outrageously expensive, though I'm willing to pay
  • one platform fits all - I don't want to have to build a separate site for mobile devices
  • ability to change design templates periodically
  • must be able to host pdf documents so I can have scripts or other samples of writing posted
  • video capabilities is ideal but not a deal breaker
  • a blog - naturally

And with that, I ask your advice. Any suggestions people have are super welcome.

Even better if you know people who'd just like to make it for me!

Next week: more adventures in writing as a team


Posted by davidrussellbc at 4:39 PM PDT
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Thursday, 7 August 2014
This Week's Feature

This week, I am away in British Columbia's beautiful Cariboo country and I wasn't sure what my internet access will be like so, in the interest of maintaining my re-commitment to weekly columns, I'm preparing ahead.

Like many columnists - including my favourite daily blogger, I'm resorting, in a way, to the age-old trick of re-running. To be fair, I haven't published it on here before - but I did write it quite a few years ago. About a year ago, I did document how I was venturing into the world of freelance writing.

Below is a feature piece I wrote, originally for The Vancouver Courier, a thrice-weekly newspaper in Vancouver. It was an in-depth story about a company called "e-realty." 

For now, have a look at the piece - I'll share later how that process went in further adventures in the freelance trade.

And if you don't hear from me in week, either I've fallen off the weekly column wagon or I was eaten by a moose.

The quiet, East-side street is barely disturbed by the faint tap-tapping of metal on metal as the stake pierces the ground and announces its wares.  The deed complete, the man in the shiny suit slips back into his long, white car - leased, of course - and heads to his next target: a split level, four-bedroom bungalow with a North Shore view.  He is scarcely around the corner when the telltale chirping is accompanied by the vibrations upon his hip.  A smile forms at the corner of his mouth.  A potential buyer.

Across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland the scene is repeated daily, weekly and monthly and has been on the rise since 2001.    'For Sale' signs in front of houses, town homes and condominiums are scarcely planted in the ground before the offers start flowing in, often before an open house can be held and very often selling for more than the listed asking price.  It doesn't take long to sell a home these days, which makes it a great time to be a seller.

It makes it an even better time to be a realtor.

With homes selling at lightning speed, the real estate industry looks like a pretty attractive career path.  Nearly eight thousand realtors in Greater Vancouver are experiencing a market where just about everything sells - it's a realtor's dream.

But not all sellers are as thrilled about the services traditional real estate agencies have to offer, especially when it seems that homes are practically selling themselves. 

"With the market being the way that it was, we just did our own investigation and realized that it's not worth it to pay a realtor fourteen, fifteen, sixteen thousand dollars to put your house on the market for seven days," says Shawn Hart, a retail manager who sold his east side Vancouver home without a traditional real estate agent. 

Like an increasing number of homeowners, Hart, 30, turned to an alternative means of selling his house, in this case a Vancouver company called erealty.ca.   

As the name suggests, erealty.ca uses the Internet as its primary vehicle for connecting not only with its clients but also its clients with potential buyers.  "It really came about once the [Multiple Listing Service] decided to put their listings on the web for public view.  That's when the light went on," says Ian Martin, erealty.ca's Vice President of Communications.  That light has continued to shine more brightly: since the company started operations in 2001, its number of clients, sales - and its visibility - has risen steadily.

The process seems simple enough. One of the key ingredients to marketing a home is getting listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a service that has always been provided by traditional realtors.  Since 1998, however, the MLS has been available on-line, in Vancouver at www.realtylink.org.

 

Since then, some surveys suggest that real estate is one of the most often accessed information for buyers on the Internet. 

"The viewer-ship is staggering in terms of the number of hits they get per day, per month," says Martin.  Clients of erealty.ca are provided access to the MLS, creating their own real estate advertisement that's placed alongside every other listing and seen by thousands of potential buyers - and realtors. 

 

Once a buyer is interested in an erealty.ca listing, contact is made directly with the seller, who shows the home him or herself. Jessica Grant, a research assistant at UBC and another erealty.ca client says, "The hardest thing for me was preparing for the open house.  And that's probably what scared me the most." 

But according to Hart, showing his own home turned out to be not scary at all.  "People came in, they introduced themselves, asked the questions they wanted to know and it was a really fun day," he says.  In many ways, having the seller show the home makes sense.

"Who better to show it than the person who owns it?" Martin concurs.  "I know when the garbage is picked up.  I know where the schools are.  And the great thing is they dictate their own schedule."  Sellers are able to plan as many or as few private showings or open houses as they think necessary.

But the biggest attraction to erealty.ca is likely the money sellers save on real estate commissions. On average erealty.ca estimates its clients save in the neighbourhood of $8,500 on their home sale.

At 0.5%, erealty.ca's commission fees are very nearly impossible to beat.  And in lower priced properties - if there is such a thing in Vancouver anymore - the savings on commission could be the deciding factor that allows the seller to purchase his or her next home.

The seller also has control over how much commission is offered to cooperating realtors, that is, those who may represent potential buyers.  The seller can offer a flat fee or a commission of 2, 1.5, 1% or no commission at all.  "We allow the seller to dictate how much they're willing to offer to the cooperating agent," says Martin.  "So when they set the terms they go, okay, if I'm only going to offer a dollar, or one percent on the other side, they're pre-warned that [they] may not get a lot of activity as opposed to if they're offering one point five, or five thousand dollars or something."

In a hot seller's market - as Vancouver has been since erealty.ca opened up virtual shop - a homeowner may well decide to offer no cooperating commission, betting they will be able to make a better deal without a buyer's realtor involved. Grant says one agent did call before bringing in a client to try to negotiate a higher commission than what Grant was offering up front.  Grant held firm; the agent came anyway.

Besides, if perceived interest in the property is declining, the seller can always up the commission to attempt to attract more realtors.

There's also the self-satisfaction and cocktail-party bragging rights factor, a sense of sharing success at dabbling in the heretofore-enigmatic real estate industry and coming out ahead.  Says Martin, "It's like somebody who's renovated their own bathroom or something and think, 'hey, I did this and feel good about it.  I saved thousands.'"

For most people, a real estate purchase or sale is the largest transaction they will ever undertake, which makes the thought of going it alone more than just a little intimidating.  But unlike flying completely solo, as in 'For Sale by Owner' transactions, erealty.ca is, in fact, the seller's real estate agent.

Linda Whitehead, president of erealty.ca, notes their product is designed to alleviate the fear and mystique of the real estate transaction.  "We have a fairly structured product," she says.  "That's one of the biggest reasons they use us.  You're going from doing it all on your own - for sale by owner - to a full service realtor.  We're somewhere in between." 

Adds Martin, "We're the coach on the sidelines.  We're watching the field of play; we're just not on the field with them." 

Indeed, apart from the MLS listing itself, the most important part of erealty.ca's service is their role in advising on offers and the sale transaction itself.  "Whenever an offer is made they don't respond to it until we've seen it," Martin says.  "We review it with them and then we'll consult and advise them how to respond to it."

Just like a traditional realtor.

Of course, erealty.ca is not the only way sellers are seeking to find less expensive means to sell their homes.  Apart from private sales, a number of smaller or discount firms have increased their share of the booming market. 

One Percent Realty has turned what has traditionally been viewed as the norm in real estate commissions on its head.  Vancouverites who have sold their homes are familiar with a traditional Vancouver real estate commission of 7 percent on the first one hundred thousand dollars of the selling price, 2.5 percent on the remaining.  On a $500,000 home that commission structure costs the seller $17,000 in real estate fees.

One Percent Realty, as the name implies, charges a straight 1% commission on the sale price, with a minimum fee of $5,000.  On that same home, One Percent's commission is just $5,000, a significant savings, particularly if the seller is counting on every dollar as equity for the next home purchase.

Ian Bailey, President of One Percent Realty, says the key difference between their company and the so-called full service realtors is that One Percent clients are responsible for their own advertising, if they choose to do so.  Other than that, he says, "We offer the same service for a fraction of the price."  

The models seem to be catching on.  In each of the past two years One Percent Realty has doubled its sales from the year before and this year looks to be just as promising.  Erealty.ca has also achieved constant and steady growth since its inception as well. And neither's clients seem to have any difficulty attracting interested potential purchasers.  Shawn Hart's total transaction time - from signing up with erealty.ca through open house to closed deal was just twelve days.  Jessica Grant's sold in just five, with close to sixty potential buyers viewing the home in that short period. 

It's enough to make a traditional real estate agent curse. 

Finding realtors willing to comment on their competition is a challenge; a code of ethics in the real estate profession sanctions realtors who speak critically of fellow realtors, electronic, discount or otherwise.

But not all real estate agents are ready to pull the plug on their web-based brethren.

Jeff Benna, a Vancouver realtor with ReMax Real Estate Services acknowledges erealty.ca and One Percent Realty are an increasing presence in the market.  But he's not terribly surprised.  "I think there's always been discount brokers, alternative commission structures and different service packages," he says.  "They're definitely a presence and their names come up a lot." 

There's little doubt Vancouver's booming market has helped develop smaller and alternative real estate services.  Benna, 36, acknowledges it's been a banner few years.  This market, in short, benefits everyone, traditional and alternative realtors alike, which also means there's room for a variety of players in the field.

Technology too, as in most industries, has had a drastic impact on the industry.  "Ten or fifteen years ago if you wanted to make a [stock] trade, what did you do?" erealty.ca's Whitehead asks.  "You phoned your broker, the person would execute the trade and then confirm it with you.  Now, a huge percentage of the populations sits down at their own computer and executes their own trade online.  Erealty.ca is the parallel to that in this industry." 

Benna agrees.  "The traditional model in real estate was always the realtor is the information gatekeeper.  If you wanted to know anything you had to go to a realtor," he says.  "Now we're not so much gatekeepers of that information but we're interpreters of that information."

Technology and a booming market don't have everyone running from realtors, however. Carrie Gadsby and her husband David Portal recently sold their North Shore townhome to buy their first house.  Even with a valuable property to sell, and knowing of the less expensive, more 'self-service' options available, Gadsby says they hired a realtor precisely because of how quickly homes are selling. 

"With the market that was out there we needed to move fast," Gadsby says.  With houses getting multiple offers, Gadsby says they had to make their offer without subjects, which also means they needed to sell their existing property immediately, lest they suddenly find themselves owners of two homes.  "We couldn't have gotten the house if we didn't have our realtor making the deal," she adds. 

"I think there's always going to be a place for a competent, professional, knowledgeable person that you can go to for advice," Benna says.  "When you're talking about transactions worth hundreds and hundreds and even millions of dollars, I think [for] the layperson, if there is such a thing anymore, it's definitely worth it to get that perspective."

Lately, the traditional real estate industry too has introduced its own innovations.  On August 17, the Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley Real Estate Boards brought their own new technology online.  Eileen Day, Manager of Communications for both boards says the new web-based software brings her members up to speed.  Essentially, she says, the boards' new ML Exchange program is "bringing them to the same environment as their clients.  It makes the working relationship with a realtor so much more effective." 

With the number of home sales finally leveling off, according to Statistics Canada, it remains to be seen if these new real estate business models will continue to represent a significant threat to traditional real estate agents.  But Benna says companies like erealty.ca and One Percent Realty are legitimate competition.  "So hopefully, you go out and describe what you offer for what you charge and if they see value there they proceed with you," he says. 

"To be quite honest, we're not looking to be all things to everybody," says erealty.ca's Martin.  "We're not going to threaten a majority of the realtors.  There's always going to be enough business out there for them." 

Sellers can also take comfort in knowing that both erealty.ca and One Percent Realty are, in fact, licensed realtors, subject to the same licensing requirements of the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board and the Real Estate Council of B.C.  In that same vain, it is the fiduciary duty of a buyer's agent to show any property the client wishes to see, regardless of the commission being offered.  Sellers, then, shouldn't worry that their listings are being blackballed.

"No.  Why would I do that?" Benna asks.  "That's bad for everybody.  I've sold a couple of One Percent Realty listings because they were the houses that my clients wanted and they were the best fit." 

Meanwhile, Shawn Hart and Jessica Grant wouldn't hesitate to go the unconventional route again.  Says Grant, "We received two competing offers and we had a lot of contact back and forth.  They were really excellent.  Very helpful." 

That's good news for Martin and Whitehead who continue to count on word of mouth to increase their presence in this still highly competitive market. 

 

And it's one more way even barely tech-savvy consumers can harness the power of information access to open up choices in the largest financial transaction most will ever have.
 

 


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 7 August 2014 9:50 AM PDT
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Thursday, 31 July 2014
That's the Kind of Summer It's Been

Last week I made mention of what I've been calling the 'mother of all writer's block.' In short: between everything else I've been doing I haven't done a whole lot of writing.

It may not surprise you to learn that for a writer this is somewhat troubling.

What has been interesting, in that perverse sort of way, is that I'm not by any means at a loss for ideas. I have stuff that I want to write. Hell, I have stuff that I need to write (more about that later). But somehow I have been struggling like mad to motivate myself to actually, you know, write.

A more clinical approach to examining the causes might point to the possibility of my mental health potentially limiting my output. Don't worry - I'm not looking for sympathy or therapist recommendations (who can afford therapy anyway?). But given that there is no physical ailment preventing me from writing, no work obstacle getting in the way (I've been "off", such as my day job is, for nearly three weeks) all that remains is: it's all in my head.

In the making excuses department, surgical recovery, getting my head away from work and just generally decompressing has taken much longer this year than perhaps ever before. The past three years we have been traveling in the summer - significantly so, which has probably contributed to getting into vacation mode faster: by necessity I've had to put work behind and get to the airport.

Of course, this summer has a couple of significant deadlines. One of the things I have been promising myself is that a draft of W3.doc would be completed before I returned to the day job on August 18th. I think I have finally come to terms with the fact that that's not going to happen. By coming to terms, essentially that means that I am no longer going to pretend that I'm still anticipating getting it done on this timeline. And before you rush to judgement - or, more importantly, before I do - I have not yet established a new deadline. Given the potential impact failing to meet deadlines has on my written output, it's important not to set myself up for failure. I need to do some re-evaluating, planning and further outlining so I can set a deadline I know that I can meet.

Which isn't to say I'm okay with it. As I mentioned last week, my pace between books - Deadly Lessons to Last Dance, Last Dance to W3.doc - is definitely off. And as much as I've accepted I'm not going to meet my admittedly self-imposed deadline, that acceptance has not translated into, well, acceptance.

But while we're on the subject of deadlines - I'm up against another one.

At some point I mentioned that I'm working on a non-fiction project. This time, the deadline is real. Oh sure, I could blow it off and decide not to get it done. Except this time, I'm working with writing partners.

As yet, this is an almost entirely new experience (there was a sketch comedy series many years ago - that's a story for another time). I have yet to see how well writing in committee will go. So far, we've each been writing on our own sections so I can't really assess how well we write together. But our deadline is real: on August 11th we're supposed to meet to begin editing each other's work.

Having that deadline - a real deadline - with other people counting on me I think is going to be helpful. But I'm still finding it difficult and all the things that have been slowing down my written output aren't making it any easier to get the non-fiction, partner writing done either.

Hopefully my partners don't read this column.

Next week: I'm away but don't despair. I'm prepared.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 24 July 2014
Where Have You Been?
Topic: Writing

When I initially returned to the weekly blog, a principal part of the purpose was to encourage myself to keep writing, the theory being that if I could convince myself to commit to at least some kind of weekly output, it might well encourage an increase in output towards completion of the next novel and beyond.

For more than a year, I diligently completed the weekly column, documenting issues with which I was struggling in the creative process, sharing some successes when I would begin to see some increase in literary output (I know, I know, some critics, including my own inner critic would chafe at defining what I do with the term ‘literary’) and a host of other (mostly) writing-related topics. Some good ideas came from the columns too, not only from me but from some of the responses I received from readers (yes, there have been some).

And then I hit a dry spell of comparatively epic proportions.

It’s true what I assume they say (because I’m not sure I’ve ever really heard it said outside my own head): once you skip your routine once, it becomes much easier to do so again. And again. And again. And…well, you get the picture.

The weekly column was like a psychological commitment that once broken just became easier to break again. It took me over a year to break the spell but once I did it was like the little devil sitting on one shoulder just let me know it wasn’t so bad and it became easier to skip weeks every now and again. And just as I expected, it has had an impact on my written output elsewhere. To be fair, it could just be that I’m crazy – and I’m not yet willing to rule that out – but giving myself permission to stop writing the weekly column has translated to giving myself permission to stop writing, period.

And it’s been quite a dry spell.

I could come up with a litany of excuses…or reasons, I would prefer to more positively phrase them…for why I have hit such a resounding low in output. They would include things like:

I was busier and more stressed in the day job these past few months than I think I have ever been. Yes, I have now “officially” been on holidays for coming up two weeks but it really has taken this long for my mind to get free of that space, at least some of the time. Truth be told, I’m writing this column at three o’clock in the morning because my mind still won’t completely free itself of its day job obligations, though I would like to remind my mind that it’s supposed to be a day job, not a middle of the night job.

My second night job, going to school has involved more of my time and mental resources than previous classes have been as well. Admittedly, the actual workload paled in comparison to my most recent previous course but the subject matter so closely mirrored the work in my day to day work it added a degree of complexity to what I was studying.

There was the little matter of surgery. Yes, those who know me might rightly point out the surgery was on my ankle, a part of the body not generally utilized in producing written content. But pain is tiring. And while I’m up and about and have been for quite some time, there’s still physiotherapy and just being generally uncomfortable that have slowed down if not my ability to produce at least my will to do so.

Then there’s the epiphany.

Recently, it occurred to me that I’m behind on W3.doc. Okay, regular readers (you know you’re out there) will argue I’ve been saying that for a long time. But this epiphany recognized something of a milestone and it goes like this: when Deadly Lessons was published in late 2006, I was already well under way with the manuscript that would become Last Dance. So while the gap between publication of the two books was an unacceptable, really, five years, I submitted the first draft of the manuscript for Last Dance around about November of 2008, roughly two years after Deadly Lessons was published.

It has now been more than two and a half years since Last Dance was published and I have yet to complete the book, let alone do even a cursory edit before submitting a draft. And rather than spur me into action, this has frozen me on the spot, struck me with the fear that my publisher, already potentially not necessarily keen on continuing publishing my books, will determine the gap is too great and just drop me.

Fear is fun, isn’t it?

But I’m back. For now, I need to re-commit myself at a minimum to documenting this so-called creative process if only to hold myself to account. Feel free to nag me to account whenever the mood strikes you.

Next week: an update on some of the written work I’m doing.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014 3:30 AM PDT
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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Action!
Topic: Writing

 

At some point in the past I've mentioned that one of my resolutions for this year was to put some increased efforts into finding movie possibilities for both Deadly Lessons and Last Dance.

Yeah, okay, I also determined that W3.doc would make it through first draft stage this year too. That one's still on but the movie stuff? Let's look at that.

There are a lot of different ways to get a movie made. I'm not an expert in any of them. In fact, search the entire imdb database and the closest reference you'll find to me is much more widely known for movies about detectives solving existential crimes than heroes of the reluctant high school teacher sort.

But I do have to think that one way for a movie to be more likely to be made would be to have someone bankable attached to it, which led me to naturally begin to wonder who I would want to play Winston Patrick. If you've read the books (and if you haven't - what are you waiting for?) you may have developed a picture of what my protagonist looks like. People who know me both as a writer and in person have repeatedly said they hear me when they read Winston's words. Sure they hear me, but Winston surely doesn't look like me. For starters, he's taller.

I suppose on the one hand I would like to think of my protagonist as the Brad Pitt type. But I like to think of at least part of his charm his geekishness, his just 'regular guy' nature. So I need a different kind of actor with different kinds of qualities, two principally: I want him to be famous enough that having him behind the picture would be more likely to get it produced and I want him to be not so famous he's constantly in demand and unattainable.

Not so much to ask, really.

So after much research, largely consisting of reading Deadline during pilot season and I have settled on….

Josh Radnor.

Yes, that Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame. Radnor, while not being completely geeky, isn't exactly traditional leading material (please don't share this column with him if he happens to be your second cousin or something). He has charm, likeable warmth that isn't terribly threatening and he fits the age of the character. Radnor has also written, produced and directed, qualities that just upped his appropriateness in my book for my books.

He also doesn't appear to be working on anything right now.

It may seem that my problems are solved: Radnor likes the books, gets on board to play Winston Patrick and maybe even adapts the books for the screen, large or small.

But reaching out to major television stars, you may be surprised to learn, is not as easy as it seems. Even just accurately tracking down who his representation is can be a significant challenge. And when you do find them, they have a pretty large disclaimer on their website proclaiming they do not accept unsolicited materials for consideration by their clients.

Which led me to wonder if the adventure of trying to get Josh Radnor to make the Winston Patrick movies wouldn't make for a good movie in and of itself. Could I find someone who could produce a documentary feature of my efforts to track down Radnor, get my books in his hand and convince him to come aboard with filmed versions?

Sure if the film was going to be interesting I would have to do more than just pick up the phone and repeatedly try to phone people. It would probably need to involve travel to New York and L.A. and at least the possibility of some kind of stalking charges. Maybe even some cross-promotional opportunities on COPS.

I guess the first stop would be crowd-sourcing sites. Even documentary filmmakers need to get paid.

Of course, if Radnor is your second cousin, getting your help might be a whole lot easier.

Next week: writing by committee


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 18 June 2014 11:26 AM PDT
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