″I could write a book about that!″. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone say that, I'd be very, very rich. But I've done exactly that. I've written a book about Toronto, all forty thousand words of it, and it's been published.

CN Tower Toronto

CN Tower
Credit: Frances Spiegel, all rights reserved.


The iconic CN Tower is the view everyone associates with Toronto.



Good Advise for First-time Authors

How to Write a Book, Get it Published and Keep All the Profits (How2Become)
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(price as of Apr 16, 2016)
How to Write a Book, Get it Published and Keep All the Profits is a good book for a first-time author to start with.

How do You know What to Write About? Write About Things You Understand

When I talk to people about writing a book, the first question they ask is: ″how do you know what to write about″.

Obviously, there's no right or wrong answer to that question, but from experience I always say: ″write about things you understand″. I understand disability issues so that's what I chose to write about. In case you're wondering, my book is called Ride the Rocket – Toronto Enabled. It's a humorous autobiographical guide for disabled visitors to Toronto.

Initially, I went to Canada to meet newly discovered family. Whilst staying with them, I explored the city and got the idea for the book. I would write about disabled access in Toronto. This could be quite a heavy subject, so I decided to make the book light-hearted by telling readers about the developing family ties and the humorous, and sad, moments during my visit.

I'm not a wheelchair user but I almost became one following serious spinal injury. I have also worked with disabled people and wheelchair users so I understand the difficulties they face. There's nothing more frustrating than arriving at a tourist attraction which a travel guide says is accessible to wheelchair users, only to find that having easily entered the building, you can't get much further!

Toronto by Night

Toronto by Night
Credit: Frances Spiegel, all rights reserved.

This is a sunset view of Toronto taken from Casa Loma, one of Toronto's most interesting tourist hot spots.

Fodor's Toronto: with Niagara Falls & the Niagara Wine Region (Full-color Travel Guide)
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Fodor's guide is full of interesting information about Toronto, Niagara Falls and the Niagara Wine Region.

Where do You Start?

The next question is usually: ″where do you start?″

I must make it clear at this stage that I only write non-fiction. I'm used to writing, with over one thousand articles published online and in print, but writing a book is different. It's a long job. It's not like writing a article that might take a couple of hours.

When I first got the idea of writing my book I started taking hundreds of photographs. Well, I would have done anyway as this was my first visit to Toronto. I also started making copious notes about places I saw. It's the notes that were so important.

I realised that I needed time, a lot more time. I was lucky, my family invited me to stay many times so I had ample opportunity to do the research. If you're planning this sort of project the first obstacle is funding. If you're not writing about something in your local area, can you afford to travel? I made several journeys from London to Toronto. My accommodation costs were taken care of, but I had to accept from the start, that since I'm not a well-known author with backing from other sources, I must stand the cost of travel myself.

I also needed conviction, dedication, and a carefully detailed plan. You can't just pick up your pen, or go to your laptop, and start writing. You will soon slip off topic, get very vague, and probably become very disjointed doing things that way.

Once I knew I was going to write the book I started planning. I planned everything from the research to the writing, from the proof-reading to the publication.


Ride the Rocket - Toronto Enabled: A Humorous Autobiographical Guide for Disabled Visitors
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This is my book, a humorous autobiographical guide for disabled visitors to Toronto.

Research is the Secret of a Good Non-fiction Book

Every non-fiction book, on no matter what subject, must have thorough research. Your book is giving information to readers so you can't be slap-dash. Every minute detail you write on those pages needs checking. My research took place during several visits to Toronto, so the early facts became out-of-date and I rechecked everything as the book neared completion. It's a good idea to ask an impartial good friend to pick on facts and check them again.


Black Creek Pioneer Village
Credit: Frances Spiegel, all rights reserved.

Black Creek Pioneer Village shows life as it was for early settlers. The Village is closed during the winter months, but check for special openings.

We're Nearly There - Proof-reading

I can't say enough about proof-reading. Like fact-checking, proof-reading is key to a good book. But proof-reading your own book is never a good option. You've written forty thousand, or however many words, and you've fallen in love with those words. They're like your babies, you can't bear to part with a single one of them, and worse still, you probably won't see your spelling mistakes or typos. Again, enlist the help of an impartial reader, someone whose English is exceptionally good. Tell them to be ruthless, to use the red editor's pen and cut those superfluous words. Their advice will probably be sound, so unless you totally disagree follow that advice.

Boots Mural

Boots Mural in Legislative Building
Credit: Frances Spiegel, all rights reserved.

This fascinating mural consists of boots, more boots, and nothing but boots!

Writing the Book was Easy? - Getting Published is Much Harder!

My book was originally completed some years ago. At the time, I contacted several agents hoping for representation, but without success. I sent synopses to dozens of conventional publishers. Most liked the idea, and one asked for the complete manuscript. They invited me to a meeting, but just days before that meeting the national press announced their bankruptcy. Some English publishers, and agents, suggested I contact Canadian publishers, but I soon discovered they will only publish Canadian writers!

However, the publishing world is changing rapidly. Self-publishing, either online or in print, has become easy and that's the route I've chosen. There are plenty of organisations who will help you self-publish or do it yourself. For my paper-back edition, I chose Amazon's CreateSpace because it looked easy, the instructions were clear and helpful, and they didn't ask for money up front. One of the big advantages is that I can up-date the book as new tourist attractions open or as original facts change.

Publicising the Book

But I'm not fooled, just because I've self-published Ride the Rocket doesn't mean it will sell. If you're published by a traditional publisher they may well organise a publicity campaign. After all, it's in their interest to sell books.

If you self-publish you have to tell people about your book. My book falls into a very small specialist niche market, but this is what I am doing to publicise it.

Many local shops have taken flyers but it's going to take a lot more than that. You can tell friends and family. Only do it once or you'll soon find your friends disappearing in the other direction. ″Oh, no, it's Frances again, banging on about that book!″

Social media is useful, but not if you keep flooding your pages with Tweets or meaningless announcements. Don't just say: ″buy my book″. Say something interesting or give news of a really important up-date or the release of a new edition.


Local radio stations and newspapers are usually interested in local interest stories. I also contacted radio stations in Toronto. A press release costs nothing:


  • Exude confidence with a punchy title. You might say: ″Local Author Releases Debut Book″. Editors may change that, but at least you've got their attention.

  • Introduce yourself right at the beginning. Perhaps something like: ″I'm thrilled to see my book is selling well″.

  • Make the opening paragraph short and intriguing. You must make readers want to read on. For example: ″Local author celebrates release of new book″.

  • Follow that with a short paragraph giving the title, publisher, etc., and give a concise description of what readers can expect from the book.

  • Send a high-resolution photograph of you with your book.

Independent books shops are another good opportunity. Many support self-published authors by taking stock, displaying posters, or arranging a book-signing event. The trouble is that so many of these have disappeared.

Contact local librarians who are often willing to display posters or flyers. Offer a free copy as a thank you, and when your book is displayed and hopefully borrowed, more people get to know about it.

Other places to publicise your book include story-telling sessions in libraries, or local schools if it's a children's book. Senior schools and colleges and writing workshops may also welcome guest speakers.


Living with Disability (Issues Series)
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(price as of Apr 16, 2016)
Practical advice on coping with a disability.

Writing the Next Book?

Is there another book in me? Perhaps I should write about London, my home city. There's certainly no end of material to choose from and the research process will be a lot cheaper. This time I'll focus more tightly on disability issues and leave out the family bit. Maybe Ride the Rocket is the next Amazon best-seller, but somehow I don't think so! And any way, does it matter? I enjoyed doing the research and writing the book. I've learned a lot along the way, but best of all - I've given my family a lasting legacy.