Monday, November 25, 2013

Books: What Readers Like

human and robot reading
An August 2013 survey by bestselling author Marie Force revealed some interesting trends about what American readers like, what format they prefer and where they find their writers. While the survey was fairly small and restricted to Americans (just under 3,000 people responded to 44 questions), I think it provides a good microcosm of what the trend is out there in North America generally.

Here are Marie’s main findings and conclusions:

1.     FORM: Readers prefer e-books to paperbacks (77%); many buy in multiple formats, including paperback. 52% of surveyed readers do buy their books in print form. Audio books are slowly gaining popularity.

2.     REVIEWS & TESTIMONIALS: Retail reviews such as those on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retail sites were more important to readers than author endorsements and reviews by professional reviewers on review sites. Fifty percent of readers preferred reviews posted on retail sites for their information; 16% used Goodreads; 72% said that the designation of “New York Times Bestselling Author” did not make a difference in their purchasing choice. 81% did not subscribe or read the major review publications (e.g., RT Book Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, NYT Sunday Edition, USA Today)

3.     BOOKSTORES: A majority of readers bought their books from a virtual bookseller: 80% of surveyed readers buy from Amazon (Barnes & Noble online was second at 23%; iBookstore/Apple scored 13%). 58% of readers surveyed had visited a real bookstore twice or less in the past year. The remaining percent visited more often.

4.     PUBLISHER: readers are more likely to buy a self-published book by an author they know; 94% of readers surveyed are “more likely” to buy a self-published book from an author who is known to them; 68% of readers are “less likely” to purchase a self-published book by an author they don’t know.

5.     CONTENT & GENRE:  Readers are most interested in stories with outstanding characters, setting, storytelling and writing; 75% chose “all of the above” to encompass each of the elements. Unsurprisingly, 81% of readers chose “Romance” is their favorite genre of fiction; contemporary romance is the favorite subgenre with historical romance as the second favorite.

6.     HOW READERS FIND & FOLLOW AUTHORS: the best single-most best social media platform for authors is Facebook, used by 85% of surveyed readers; 75% of readers also subscribed to the newsletters of their favorite authors and 55% subscribed to the blogs of their favorite authors. Twitter was not a major site for readers to find and follow their authors. Goodreads was one of the most frequently mentioned sites in the open-ended portion of the questionnaire.

The numbers don’t always match up; nor is the catchment or method of making statistical conclusions sufficiently explained; but the results as presented make logical sense to me. They make sense because the feedback I am getting in my circles is very similar. So, there you go, writers and readers.

Here’s my take on this phenomenon:
old derelict library

1. Increased sales of Digital Books: the increasing sales of digital books (ebooks) and the rising sales of audiobooks is a wonderful and uplifting icon of rising literacy. More people are reading (and listening) to books now than ever. And we have the digital book, Kindles, Kobos and iPads to thank for it. The “book” has become more accessible and readable. People swarm the public transit, clutching their iPhones and reading devices. 

2. Readers still choosing Print Books: Obviously, print books are cherished by readers for their intrinsic value. Books—their tangible tactile presence—will always remain with us; in collector’s showcase libraries, in trendy artistic venues, and funky local neighbourhood venues.

Vancouver Public Library
3. My Prediction: print books will become the epitome of publishing value and worth. Already coveted by collectors whose libraries will represent the best of the best in the literary world, print books will come to represent the highest status in literature. Only the best stories will endure as print books; perhaps only the “best book” will even be published in print form. Its existence in print form will define its literary value.

4. Take Home Message to Authors: ensure that your book appears in print form and get it into the hands of classy libraries and classy people.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Writer's Toolkit Workshop with Nina Munteanu

I'm giving the first of a series of writing workshops this coming Saturday, November 23rd 2013 from 6 pm to 8 pm in The Beaches, Toronto.

The Writer's Toolkit Workshop:

Every writer requires some necessary items in his/her toolkit to get published. This workshop introduces and discusses the most common challenges faced by writers serious about getting published. Areas covered include:

  • getting started
  • dealing with time management & writer’s block
  • getting those ideas down and making a story out of them
  • focusing and maintaining the staying power to finish
  • incorporating all the elements of good storytelling like plot, character, theme and setting into a seamless story
  • making your writing compelling, clear and exciting
  • doing research and editing
  • marketing, synopses & outlines, query letters
  • overcoming fear (of failure, of success, of everything)

Cost is $30 and includes one of my writing guidebooks (valued at $27.95). Seating is limited so either register in advance or come early, buy one of Wunderland's excellent European-style coffees and grab a seat in the cafe.

Writers in Wunderland...

The Writer's Toolkit is the first of a series of monthly writing workshops I will be giving starting January 2014. You can register for any of them in advance once the schedule is finalized in early January.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hero Against the Bully: Rachel Parent and GMO Labeling

When she was twelve years old, Rachel Parent did a school project on genetically modified foods. It changed her life.

That was two years ago. Today, Parent is the founder of Kids Right to Know, an organization that promotes labeling food to reflect its content, and she speaks at events like the recent global “March on Monsanto” in Toronto, ON. She scored several goals in a face off with Kevin O’Leary on CBC’s TheLang and O’Leary Exchange.  

In that short time since her school project, this young teenager has informed herself extremely well and can eloquently explain her position on the right to know labeling campaign, what risks GMO products pose to the environment and ourselves, and the insidious nature of how multinational GMO-producing corporations like Monsanto are contributing to this potential negative impact.

Her main issue is also mine: the purposeful deception by corporations (and governments) for self-serving reasons. Being a bully. Not playing nice.

The Right To Know

Rachel Parent
No matter what people might believe about GMO and its effects on ecosystem function, biological integrity and human health, enough concern has been raised to warrant clarity in product description. This is a democratic right.

Our democratic free world is predicated on transparency and freedom of choice. Citizens of the world have demonstrated the need to know and choose according to their beliefs. In order to make informed choices, we must have enough information—in this case the presence, or not, of GM foods in consumables. Mandatory labeling of consumables made from GMO products currently exists throughout the world—with the exception of most of the United States (some states like Connecticut have instituted their own laws) and Canada. “Canada,” Parent tells us, “is one of only two industrialized nations in the world that don’t have mandatory GMO labeling. The other country is the United States.”

“The truth is,” says Parent, “it’s no coincidence that since GMOs have been introduced into our food system, we’ve started seeing more cases of irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, acid reflux, infertility, cancer, autism, Parkinson’s and many other diseases. Unfortunately, it seems like we’re all a big part of a science experiment.” She adds, “All of this could lead up to be the most devastating, destructive, unspoken environmental catastrophe of all time. “Unfortunately, the media is not talking about it because most of their advertisers are brands that use GM ingredients. In fact, over 90% of the advertised packaged goods that are advertised on TV contain GMOs, such as corn, canola, soy, vegetable oils and high fructose corn syrup.”

Parent’s goal is “to make sure that food is clearly and accurately labeled [for all Canadians] and then people can choose for themselves.”  Parent has certainly made up her mind and chosen for herself. But, having made that choice, she admits to the challenge of living by it, based on the lack of sufficient labeling. So, Parent makes a best guess, based on what she knows. She avoids corn, canola, soy, and vegetable oil “because,” says Parent, “if you’re eating food that contains these ingredients, there’s about a 90% chance that they contain GMOs.” The evidence, in fact, is clear regarding the risk to both human health andnatural ecosystems that GMO pose.  For instance, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) reported that “several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food.” Studies identified infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes to major organs and the gastrointestinal system as impacts created by GM foods.

The AAEM asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GMfoods. The only human feeding experiment revealed that the genetic material inserted into GM soy transfers into bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function—long after we stop eating GM foods.  While no study has been done to date about gene transfer, if the antibiotic gene inserted into most GM crops were to transfer, it could create super diseases, resistant to antibiotics. If the gene that creates Bt-toxin in GM corn were to transfer, it might turn our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories. 

In a recent interview with Courtney Shea of Toronto’s The Grid, Parent explained that Health Canada’s official position of genetically modified food being as healthy as other food is based on dangerously limited and potentially biased scientific evidence: “Health Canada relies on tests that are conducted by the [very] companies [who produce the product] … and who stand to profit from GMOs. The companies doing the testing are only testing for [periods of] 90 days. How does 90 days determine how these things might affect us in the long term?”

This is the $$$$$ question.  

What Is Really Being Tested?

The acute 90-day test used by Monsanto and other GMO researchers, is just one of many types of toxicity tests conducted by toxicologists in risk assessment studies of varying exposure.

One can generally characterize toxicity tests as:

1) Acute Tests, which test the immediate, worse-case effects of a compound, usually measured through the concentration that kills fifty percent of the organisms tested: LC50); and

2) Chronic Toxicity Tests, which assess a quantitative biological function, usually growth or reproductive success (not death), usually measured through the NOEC [no observed effect concentration]).

Both kinds of tests should be run to provide a realistic and robust measure of effect (e.g., both intense short term and chronic long term). The latter is more often what occurs in the real world because of its insidious nature. Low dose chronic exposure is therefore a critical measure for the following reasons: 1) this dose is less likely to be noticed and may add to critical accumulative effects; 2) because of this, chronic doses may exist for prolonged periods with greater hidden adverse effects; 3) this dose may affect different receptors than higher doses with great hidden costs; 4) this dose, though not lethal, is less likely to be regulated and therefore more likely to contribute to aggressive negative synergy; 5) this dose is more likely to be encountered and persist in the environment for all the reasons given above.

In 2012, French and Italian scientists headed by Gilles-Eric Seralini (see the entire Séralini et al. paper here), published the results of a two-year long term sub-chronic toxicity study of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize in Food and Chemical Toxicitythe first of its kind. Authors concluded in their paper that: "The results of the study...clearly demonstrate that lower levels of complete agricultural guy-phosphate herbicide formulations, at concentrations well below officially set safety limits, induce severe hormone-dependent mammary,hepatic and kidney disturbances."

Despite the barrage of bad press and efforts to discredit the two-year study on rats (it has since been validated by the European Food and Safety Authority), the paper’s results cannot be refuted entirely or ignored (if only from the basis of scientific inquiry and professional due diligence to do with Type II Error).

In November 2012, California’s Proposition 37, the bill to enforce the labeling of GMO products, was defeated. In an article entitled, “Writing About Truth…and Other Lies” I explored why. Over $47 million dollars were spent to fight the California ballot for the right to know. That campaign ultimately revealed a surprising “who’s who” in the GMO controversy. When some of the largest “organic” brands like Kashi, Cascadian Farm, and Horizon Organic joined the anti-labeling effort, it was no surprise that these “organic” brands are owned by larger conglomerates like Kellogg, General Mills, Dean Foods, Smucker’s and Coca-Cola—all companies, along with Monsanto, PepsiCo., Neslé and ConAgra Foods, that use GMO materials in their products. Companies who supported the bill to label GMO products included Whole Foods, Nature’s Path (a Canadian company) Organic Valley, Cliff Bar and Amy’s Kitchen—brands that do not use GMO.

Whenever an issue of importance arises, the truth reveals itself. When someone fights against transparency, condones secrecy, and ultimately promotes deception alarm bells should go off.

The controversy over the benefits and risks of GMO products continually rages today, despite sound research findings from years of experimentation that provide alarming evidence on the risks of GMO practice, both to the Earth’s ecosystems and human health directly. I’m sad to say that much of the controversy is due to huge propaganda efforts by multi-nationals (and governments) who have created an Orwellian reality that has made a lie “a truth”.  It is interesting to note here that when someone like Rachel Parent, does her homework and speaks out, she is challenged and berated by media buffoons.

In her article The Seeds of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farming in Global Research, Dr. Vandana Shiva tells us that, “Control over seed is the first link in the food chain because seed is the source of life. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the life of farmers.”

Dr. Shiva adds, “Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not “creating” or “inventing” a plant. These are seeds of deception — the deception that Monsanto is the creator of seeds and life; the deception that while Monsanto sues farmers and traps them in debt, it pretends to be working for farmers’ welfare, and the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of superpests and superweeds… A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity.”

Ecosystem Risks and Dangers of GMO

In 2007 I published an article here entitled “Biomimicry,Nature’s Alternative to Genetically Engineered Foods”, I explored the risks to ecosystem balance posed by genetically engineered crops.  In the article I reiterated ecologists’ fear—based on years of research—of potential devastation from genetically modified crops released in the natural ecosystem. Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists of America suggested that transgenic science practices may release a seemingly harmless gene into our food supply with life-threatening consequences. 

“The genome is a miniature ecosystem,” said Dr. Wes Jackson, director of the Land Institute in Kansas, a non-profit research facility devoted to alternative agricultural practices. He warns that, if misused, biotechnology may lead to the human-induced degradation of the genomes of plant species. “What is being more or less ignored” in the rush to biotechnology, he said in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, “is that some of the same principles and processes that govern an ecosystem, like a forest or a prairie, also operate with genomes.”

Jackson and The Land Institute promotes “natural systems agriculture”, a polyculture of herbaceous perennials, that provide a natural alternative to genetically engineered crops.

Seralini Reference and Links to Other Studies:

Seralini, G.-E.,et al. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem. Toxicol. (2012).

GMOs Inevitably Contaminate and Persist

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.