Valley West Mall Book Signing!

Wow, what an incredible weekend! I spent June 29th and 30th over at Valley West Mall in Des Moines, IA for a two-day book signing event presented by Indie Author Book Expo. Organized by Jenn Thompson, this event brought around 40 authors/creators together to sell books, make connections, and meet the good people of Des Moines. Despite an art festival, and the abysmal heat rolling through Iowa, the expo still brought 1,100 shoppers. Between author tables, live music, interviews, and a poetry reading, people definitely had a lot to see.

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This was my first time selling at a two-day event, and I was beyond nervous before I went. Author Alexandra Penn and I made the trip together, which sadly will be our last big show for sometime as she’s getting ready to move to school in Scotland. We made the most of it though, including hilarious road-trip conversations, dancing to the YMCA and other fun songs at the mall, and just sharing time being authors and friends rather than Directors. It was a nice reprieve.

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One of the best parts of the event was getting to catch up with both familiar and new faces. Brian K Morris and I haven’t seen one another since I.O.W.A. last year, and I can’t tell you how great it was to get a big hug from him. He’s been a mentor to me practically since we met, and I’ve embodied his ideology of “rising tide” when it comes to working with other authors. If we all work together, we rise together. Frankly, I’m shocked and disappointed in myself that we didn’t get a picture together!

He brought with him Teresa Dunn who is building her writing career even as we speak! I have to say, the expo is a great place to learn the ins and outs of selling books and to meet amazing authors who can offer tips about anything from how to get published to how to set up your signing table. Ashley Lovell and I spent plenty of time discussing ideas for table displays and brainstorming what would catch someone’s eye. I can’t wait to see what her table looks like when her next book comes out! Cassandra DenHartog (come see her at I.O.W.A 2019!) decided to add a little friend to my table who is now fondly named #Skelebird. He and #Yorick the skull will be making appearances and shenanigans at future signings, I’m sure.

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Other familiar faces included the incredible Kristine Plum, a fellow urban/paranormal fantasy writer (Alex and I weren’t the only ones bopping along to music).  Satish Jayaraj went around teaching authors how to create origami dragons, which are featured in his book. He’s actually hosting a book launch event on July 20th in Cedar Rapids, IA, so you should check him out and show your support! Tabetha Waite stopped by for a picture. She’s a great historical romance author I’ve featured in my website interviews.

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As always, I made a lot of great connections with the authors, but I also met some incredible readers. Most of the people who stopped by my table were very generous and interested in The Purple Door District. My favorite experience, though, was meeting two lovely young women who just couldn’t hold back their love for reading. They not only got the book, they proudly displayed PDD art and Bianca’s necklace. Seeing their excitement is what encourages me to keep writing, because I see myself in them when I was younger, eagerly searching for my next favorite book. I truly hope they enjoy it and they use it to fuel their own creativity.

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All-in-all, it was a great event, and I can’t thank Jenn Thompson enough for all the hard work she put into IABE. As someone who is currently trying to plan an author signing, I know just how much goes into preparing something like this. It’s no easy job, and it takes a very caring and hard-working soul to do what she does. Check out her blog to see more fun pictures from the event!

With that, this very tired writer will bid you ado. Keep your eye out for more pictures from future events, as well as what trouble Skelebird gets himself into.

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As a reminder, The Purple Door District is in the running for a reader’s choice award. I still need 50 nominations by 7/13 to move on to the next round, so if you have a moment, please submit your vote here.

Happy reading!

Let’s Talk About Fanfiction

I’m sure you’re probably already squirming in your seat at the title. Fanfiction? Bleh! Who wants to read that?

You’d be surprised.

Fanfiction, for those who don’t know, is literature created by a fan of a TV show, book, movie, comic, etc. Fans like to put their own spin on the stories, create different theories that might not necessarily be canon, or even insert themselves into the show/book through a personal character. These pieces are posted on sites like Fanfiction, Wattpad, Commaful, and more. Check out more places at The Ultimate Guide to Fanfiction and Fanfiction Sites by Joanna Smith.

So what’s the problem with it?

Well, there are many complaints about fanfiction including: “You’re just taking someone else’s writing and making it your own. That’s not real writing.” “Fanfiction writers don’t know how to write.” “Fanfiction writing is awful.” “The stories aren’t canon.” “Fanfic is just loaded with Mary Sue characters.” “The stories are sexist.” “The stories are too gay.”

I’m not going to argue with some of these. Yes, people are indeed taking a known world and making it their own. It’s true, sometimes the quality of writing isn’t very good. No, often the stories aren’t canon because people are coming up with their own theories. And yes, a lot of Mary Sue characters pop up randomly.

As for there being too many gay stories…sorry, folks, but I’m totally fine with that.

Fanfic writers are almost treated as badly as the people who like Pumpkin Spice flavored things in the fall. How DARE someone enjoy a movie/book (or flavor)! What’s the problem? If someone loves or is inspired by a story so much that they want to write about it, then why not let them? Allow them to enjoy the idea that they can see themselves in the world they love, or they can shift the elements around so certain characters are paired together, or forgotten characters get more screen/page time. It’s not hurting anyone. If you don’t like it, then you certainly don’t have to read it.

Now, I realize there’s a lot of really bad fanfiction out there (due to poor grammar, storytelling, character development, and unsavory themes). I’m not going to say every kind of fanfic is okay, especially not when it deals with things we find taboo even in books we read today (ie. graphic rape scenes, child pornography, under-aged sex stories, etc). But if you’re complaining about poor plot, writing, and character development, how do you think people learn to improve? By practicing and getting critique.

When I started out writing, I read a lot of Fanfiction and wrote some myself. Was all of it good? Oh, heck no, but the thing is, the stories other people created helped me fall in love with the world even more. I’m going to use Redwall by Brian Jacques for example. This book series was my bread and butter. When I couldn’t get enough of the published stories, I went online and read as many Redwall fanfics that I could find. One time, I stayed awake all night in my parents’ room because I had to find out what happened to these new beloved characters. My dad woke to get ready for work and found me staring, wide-eyed, at the screen. Did I get any sleep that night? Nope. Did I fall in love with characters, the Redwall world, and weep for fan-made characters? Oh, you better believe it.

Fanfiction also taught me how to adjust my writing. I learned, grammatically, what was right, and what was wrong. As I wrote my own stories, people would poke at holes in my plot or offer me advice (sometimes in the form of a trolly comment), which helped me rethink what I was writing and fix my story. I got to delve into a world I already loved, with characters I created (or borrowed), and I also learned more about writing along the way! Fanfiction also helped me meet friends and other writers.

Roleplaying through a Redwall site actually introduced me to my co-writer.

Now, there is the controversy about people writing fanfic and wanting to publish it. Actually, someone kind of did do that *coughE.L.Jamescough* but at least she changed the names and setting a bit. Personally, I don’t think people should publish fanfiction independently or traditionally as it is the creation of another author. However, I see no harm in sites providing ads or “tokens” that provide a little compensation to writers courtesy of their readers. That’s not too much different from someone running a patreon campaign and getting readers to pay a certain amount each month to get a sneak peak at a new fanfiction piece.

But I know this is something that’s heavily debated, so feel free to leave your opinion below.

When it comes to my own books like The Purple Door District,…write fanfic to your heart’s content. If my characters and world inspire you to create stories of your own, then you write them and share them with friends! Practice your craft. My goal as an author is to encourage others to write, even if it’s in the world I created. I’m not going to lie, I have checked a couple of fanfic sites just to see if anyone has had the inclination to write something based off of my book.

Let the fanfic writers enjoy the stories and create ones of their own. Long after the original author is gone, her legacy will still live on in her books, and in the stories that her fans created of her series. What an amazing way to be remembered.

I say, write on, fanfiction authors. Write on!

 

Tips for Attending Conventions

One of the exciting (and scary) things about being an author is promoting your book at signings and conventions. Some people thrive on it, while others find it quite daunting, depending on the size of the crowd. Whether you’re eagerly awaiting your next convention or dreading it, there are a few things that you can do to make your table (and yourself) desirable to your customers and ways that you can also take care of your mental and physical health.

Presentation

  • Table display: Take time when setting up your table display. You want it to be eye catching and connected with your book in some way. Don’t just scatter things about. Have a method and direct customers’ attention to your most important pieces, whether that be the book, swag, newsletter, etc.
  • Appearance: You want to be yourself, of course, but there are ways you can dress to help promote your work. Perhaps wear a shirt with your book’s cover art or characters on it. Choose a saying from your book and proudly display that. Or just wear something that’s comfortable but also appealing to the eye, something that welcomes people to your table. Whimsical can also attract attention!
  • Bookmarks/business cards: Make sure you have plenty of these with you whether you’re at your table or walking around. This is a great way to make connections and also show off that you have all your ducks in a row. If they can’t make it to your table, at least they have something to take with them to look at later.
  • Elevator Pitch: Have an elevator pitch prepared for your book when you present it. This should last maybe two sentences or 15 seconds, something to engage the customers but not bore them. You don’t want to tell them your whole story over a five minute interval, otherwise what’s the point of buying the book? Now, if they ask more questions about it, be sure to answer them and let your passion shine.
  • Greeting People: You can set up your own routine for greeting people, but make sure to be friendly, open, and honest with them. Even if you’re having a down day, try to put on a smile and engage with your customers. You’re more likely to attract their attention and get them interested in your book.  Consider standing, too, when you greet people. You seem more engaged that way.
  • Dealing With Time Monopolizers: It happens. Someone stops at your table and starts chatting with you about your book but then goes off onto tangents or starts rattling off conspiracy theories while you’re still trying to sell. Obviously you don’t want to chase a potential customer away, but there are ways to halt the conversation. If another person walks up, politely say, “Excuse me” to the monopolizer and put your full attention to the other person. It might help them realize that you still have work to do. Try to disengage by saying, “It’s been great talking to you. I’ve enjoyed talking to you, but,” and indicate you need to get back to selling. And if they still won’t step back, you have to remember that this is a job. Sometimes you have to be a bit blunt and more curtly excuse yourself from the conversation.

Saving Money

  • Bring Food: When you attend conventions, quite often food prices are jacked up so you’re paying an arm and a leg for it. If the convention allows it, consider bringing your own food (sandwiches, power bars, chips, pita, etc). You’ll save money eating your own stuff and have plenty of it available too. Likewise, bring plenty of water too, because water bottles cost a ridiculous amount of money (and kill the environment). I typically just fill mine up at the water fountain.
  • Set a Budget: Just like the rest of the convention goers, it’s hard not to get swept up in all of the amazing books and items around you. If you plan to buy a few things, set a budget for yourself so you don’t spend more than what you make.
  • Purchase a Cart: You’re likely going to have a lot of items to drag around with you to conventions. Instead of straining yourself, and possibly risking medical bills by breaking your back, get a cart or dolly that you can easily move around with your merchandise. It’ll make loading and unloading much easier as well.

Health

  • Stay hydrated: It’s easy to forget to drink something while you’re busy greeting people and selling books. But it’s vital to stay hydrated. You’re going to be working the convention for several long hours, possibly in the heat. I’ve gotten sick from not drinking enough. So fill up that water bottle!
  • Eat: Same with drinking, make sure you eat something. You might want to wait until there’s a lull in people walking around, but you can take 10 minutes to eat a power bar or a sandwich. It’ll keep you energized and fight off the dreaded “hanger.”
  • Take a Break: If at all possible, try to take a break if you feel like you’re getting too overwhelmed. Maybe have a friend come with you who can cover the table while you go sit in quiet for a few minutes. Or, befriend your neighbors who can keep an eye on your things while you run to the bathroom or take a walk. It’s hard to be “on” for so long. Give yourself chance a turn off.
  • Wet wipes: This was actually a great suggestion from my friend Brian K Morris. It’s easy to start feeling sweaty, dirty, and just uncomfortable when you’ve been working your table. Have some wipes with you to clean your face, neck, and hands to help refresh you.
  • Wear comfortable shoes/clothing: I know this can be hard if you’re cosplaying, but try to wear something comfortable, especially when it comes to shoes. You don’t want to be hating your feet an hour into the convention.
  • Know the Ins and Outs of the Convention Place: You can save yourself a lot of stress if you know 1. where you’re supposed to set up, 2. where the entrances and exits are, 3. where the bathrooms and water are located, etc before you actually attend the convention. I’ve gotten so busy setting up before that I just blanked out on some of these basic things.

What about you folks? What kind of tips can you offer when attending conventions or signings?

Finding the Inspiration to Write

Inspiration.

It’s both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes inspiration can strike at the most inopportune moments (showering, driving, working), yet when you need it, it’s nowhere to be found. How do you find it? Where do you go to encourage your muse to start spinning intricate sentences and plots?

Instagram user @mybookstoredk asked about my inspirations, so here are a few things I draw from to get the creative juices flowing.

Reading: This is likely a no-brainer. The whole reason I write is because I’ve fallen in love with books and authors. You’re supposed to read books in your genre to help motivate you, but sometimes I find reading a poem can spark my creativity. Pick up a book that calls to you. I started reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor when I was having trouble writing and editing. Her style struck a chord in me, and within five pages, I felt myself drawn back to my stories.

Music: Music has always played a big role in my life, which is probably why I tend to spin bardic songs. I grew up listening to musicals and movie soundtracks. When I was five, I could tell my mother exactly what was happening in The Little Mermaid instrumental pieces. Harry PotterLord of the RingsPirates of the CaribbeanHamilton, Cats, Rent…All of these movie or musical soundtracks help spark my muse. I can imagine scenes between my character during certain songs. The emotions imbued by the music encourage me to get into characters’ heads or sense their feelings. If you’re stuck with writing, take a favorite soundtrack and listen to it. Find the songs that remind you of your characters. Create playlists, so when you get stuck, you can turn to that specific playlist to find inspiration. I have one called “Whispers” that’s over an hour-and-a-half long!

Nature: Honestly, going out into nature inspires me. I get away from technology and enjoy the peace around me. No twitter or facebook notifications. My head can sound pretty loud at first, but as I focus on gardening or walking in the woods, getting back to my roots you might say, I create images for my book. That’s all I focus on, and nothing else distracts me. Plus, the fresh air is pretty nice for the soul.

Visiting New Locations: Changing scenery can inspire me. I have three writing spots at home (the aviary, my kitchen, my living room). Shifting from one location to another can put me into a better mindset to write. Right now, I’m sitting at a pub working on this entry, listening to the ambiance of music playing, people chatting, and glasses clinking while cars and motorcycles roar past me outside. It’s so much different from the silence at my house, or my birds chirping.  Going to new cities, parks, restaurants, anything can change your perspective and put you in a different mind to write. If you don’t know what to put on paper, then start making a list of the things you see, ear, smell, taste, and feel. It’s a great sensory exercise at the very least.

Other Authors: Many people say that the publishing world is competitive, and in a way that’s true. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. One of the best things about being part of a writing community is meeting other writers and sharing in their successes. Celebrating each other is invigorating. When I watch my friends and fellow writers publish their books, that inspires me to work on my own craft! The whole reason I finally decided to publish The Purple Door District is because my friend Alexandra Penn had the courage to put her heart and soul in print with her series The Letter Mage. I wanted to be brave like her and feel joy and satisfaction at finally putting a book out there. Not to mention I have a story all about community to share. Don’t see other authors as your competition, but rather as friends, mentors, and inspirations.

These are just a few things that spark my muse. What things inspire you? Feel free to share them, and any topics you’d like me to write about, below!

Happy writing!