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Nick and Sophie’s playlist

Nick and Sophie’s playlist

First In: Nick and Sophie's playlist
First In: Nick and Sophie’s playlist

While I write in silence, when I drive, I listen to music. This is part of the playlist that inspired parts of First In and the relationship between Nick and Sophie.


KDSpy Vs Publisher Rocket: Which is right for you?

KDSpy Vs Publisher Rocket: Which is right for you?

KDSpy vs Publisher Rocket

My dad was a spy. Not kidding. Not the James Bond kind of spy who everyone knew was a spy. No, when I was growing up, he said he was an “entrepreneur.” I didn’t learn the truth until he was literally on his deathbed that what he was doing was flying to far-away countries to do things that, if I ever said I was going to do, he’d have locked me in my room for! 

Anyway, the spying gene I inherited from my dad runs deep and so does my entrepreneurial nature. So when I started writing books and learned that I could spy on other authors to see how well their titles were performing… I ponied up my pennies and bought the tool that was available at the time: KDSpy (formerly called Kindle Spy).

I’ve been using KDSpy for about four years. But last year a friend put me on to a new spy tool for authors called Publisher Rocket (formerly KDP Rocket) and I was hooked. It does a lot of the same things KDSpy does but the two are different enough to make having both worthwhile. Kind of like having a Dad-spy and a Mom-spy working for you!

What do they spy on?

Basically, they both troll Amazon author’s keywords, categories, niches, titles, book descriptions and sales volumes.  It’s great intel (that’s spy talk for information!) if your publishing goal is to sell as many books as possible, That’s not every writer’s goal, but for those of us who at least want to make back the money we spend producing our books, these tools are really handy when it comes to helping with discoverability.

How do they compare?

Caveat: I have a sister and a brother. I won the sibling lottery with both of them. They’re quite different humans but both bring me joy so I could never, and would never, be able to say, “if you had to pick one to be your friend, I’d recommend you choose Derek,” or “I think you’d be better off with Kim in your friend corner.” All that to say, I’m not going to say one of these programs is better than the other, but I will point out how they differ so you can choose the one that serves you best. Unless you’re like me and decide they’d both be good tools to have!

Ease of use

KDSpy is a browser extension that takes you to Amazon where it will help you research bestseller rankings in all Kindle categories. It’s a one-click info dump. Easy-peasy once you’re on the book or author page you’re interested in finding out about. 

Publisher Rocket is a piece of software you download. You have to open the software and then you input specific keywords that it will use to gather intel about the books that match that keyword search. It’s a handsome software. Nice interface and graphics so if looks matter to you you’ll love Publisher Rocket… but like so many things that are pretty, it is a bit more work.

What it searches

KDSpy allows you to gather country-specific data from Amazon stores in the USA (, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Italy, Spain, France and India. If your reading market is outside of the USA, this would be important.

Publisher Rocket only gathers data from, i.e. US sales.

Tracking sales over time

KDSpy has a feature that lets you track sales data for 30 days. It’s a neat feature to watch how well a book launch does, for instance, if you’re following an author and want to know if their launch strategies translate into sales or not.

Publisher Rocket doesn’t have a data tracking function.

Keyword suggestions

KDSpy has this red light, orange light, green light system to help you see which keywords have the most and least competition. If you’re going to be running ads, this is valuable information since keyword ad prices are based on the popularity of the keywords.

Publisher Rocket has a more robust keyword search function and allows you to download lists of keywords easily. It also gives you data about the popularity of keywords, but using percentages (basically) rather than traffic lights. 


KDSpy says it’s $97 for a lifetime membership with free updates, which they do regularly. But every time I’ve referred an author friend to the site, I’ve noticed they have a half-price deal. So really, I think it’s always $47. Just this week they introduced a free 7-day trial period. And they have a 60-day money-back guarantee.

Publisher Rocket is $97 for a lifetime membership with free updates, which they’ve done twice since I bought the software a year ago. Now, their website is saying that they’ll be moving to a monthly subscription model soon, so… would that be more or less appealing to you? They have a 30-day money-back guarantee.

What else?

See why it would be impossible for me to pick to a favorite spy child? One of the nice things that Dave Chesson does—he’s the guy who created Publisher Rocket—is that he offers some great educational content on his website in the form of both blog posts and a free 5-day course.

Book Description Generator— If you’ve ever uploaded a book description to Amazon you’ll know the pain of trying to format that copy. It’s a three-finger whiskey kind of job. Dave Chesson’s Book Description Generator turns that task into a single cup of tea task. You upload your book description to his site, make it pretty, then generate the code you need to add to your Amazon book page. It’s magical.

Choosing Kindle Keywords—Again, if you’ve uploaded a book to Amazon and lived to tell the tale, you’ll know that you’re given space to add 7 Kindle keywords but that each field allows you to use up to 50 characters. What’s a strategic author to do? Use all 50 characters and fill each field with long phrases or not? Dave shares tips to help you choose the best keywords for your book, tells you how to fill in those 50-character keyword fields, and points out mistakes you might have made to work against your keyword strategy.

 5-day free Amazon ads course—Funny thing about this course is that it doesn’t actually have a catchy name. But it does use the right keywords to tell us what it’s about! Get it by email. Totally free. And Dave “Mr. Kindlepreneur” Chesson will not overload you with email after you’re done, like some marketers do. 

The Ultimate Kindle Book Promotion Tool—This is from Wesley Atkins, the guy who dreamt up and created KDSpy. It’s a killer of a time-saver if you’re promoting your book on discount. You just find your book on Amazon and put the link into his form. It pulls data about your book directly from Amazon. Then you add your bio and book description, choose your promo dates, select ‘Free, ‘$0.99,’ or ‘permafree’  then send him $47 and his bots will distribute that info to 32 book promotion sites for you. Boom! Done! No need to spend your day finding reputable book promotion sites or filling in all. the. forms. I’ve used it once and my KU reads more than paid for the price of the tool. 


There you have it! My effort to turn you into a spy since a) it’s super fun to check out how other authors are doing b) it’s smart to be a strategic author and these tools make that easier and c) being a spy is something you can really only talk about with other spies… I need more spy friends. 


It’s About a Difference (film 1988)

It’s About a Difference (film 1988)

Pips Tartar is not your average individual – she talks to fruits. A humourous and provocative journey into the mind of a most colourful character.

In 1988, having pink hair was highly uncommon and my 22-year old film partner and I (who was also 22) used it as an analogy for intolerance against gender, sexuality, race, economic situation and so on.

And yes, 30 years later this film does feel a little ham-fisted! But it was a fun, second year, Communication Studies project that required us to work without sync-sound equipment. Crazy to think there was a time when sound wasn’t automagically attached to the image!

Written and directed by Donna Barker and singer/songwriter Suzanne Nuttall.

Starring Pips Tartar as “A Difference”
Main Voice: Alexandra Robertson
Newscaster: Suzanne Nuttall
Other Voices: Mathieu Holland, Donna Barker

This 16mm film was produced with support from the Communications Studies Department at Concordia University, under the supervision of teacher/filmmaker Rick Hancox.

The time I got angry and made a documentary film about it (2004)

The time I got angry and made a documentary film about it (2004)

When my son was six-years old I was asked by his after-school daycare to put him on Ritalin or take him out of care since, they’d determined, he had ADHD. I spoke to his teacher who was stunned at the “diagnosis” and assured me that my child was a normal, grade 2 kid.

Turns out he was acting out in daycare since they were feeding him food he was allergic to — which took me months to untangle. But that experience lead me to research and produce this documentary.

Featuring Alan Cassels, author, drug policy researcher and Adjunct Professor in the School of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria, BC.


Over 11 million American children took antidepressant drugs in 2003. And the numbers are growing quickly-particularly among children aged five and younger.

Little Boy Blue blends startling statistics with expert testimony, a mock public service announcement and words-from-the-mouths-of-babes to deliver a message that is a hard pill to swallow about rising anti-depressant use among chidlren.

University of Victoria drug-policy researcher Alan Cassels asserts “the [pharmaceutical] industry is in basically two businesses-the business of creating chemicals and the business of creating disease.

Cassels examines the manipulative advertising techniques employed by drug companies and points out that they spend more money educating doctors about drugs than all medical schools in Canada combined. He also highlights the research of Dr. Andrew Mosholder, a senior epidemiologist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 2003, Mosholder found that children given antidepressants were nearly twice as likely to become suicidal.

Ultimately, this cautionary documentary challenges parents to arm themselves with questions before putting their children in the hands of “experts.”

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DISTRIBUTED BY: Moving Images Distribution