Independent Bookstore Day, April 27th

On Saturday, April 27th, the country celebrated Independent Bookstore Day! For the past five years, independent bookstores have thrown parties, offered treats, featured guest authors, created kid events and scavenger hunts, and so on and so forth. This one-day national party is meant to celebrate each bookstore’s uniqueness and get people into the stores instead of buying books exclusively online.

Iowa was no exception. Prairie Lights Bookstore had treats and special items available for people who stopped in during the day. The Haunted Bookshop had special deals on books. Next Page Books had giveaways, delicious coffee and treats, and tickets for the Music of Harry Potter at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?

I spent my day as one of the featured authors at M and M Books, a lovely little place in Cedar Rapids that I’ve learned to call home. Owned and operated by Bill and Ursla Lanphear, M and M Books is a beautiful place to bring community together. It’s run by incredible staff who really care about their customers, authors, and each other. In the past year, they’ve featured author signings, author readings, and book clubs. They’re always evolving, finding out what’s best for them and the community, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Saturday, though rainy and cold, didn’t exactly put a damper on things. The store was filled with amazing treats (some made by Dana Beatty) and dozens of gift baskets ready to go out to customers who signed up for the newsletter or bought books at the store.

Sweets
Picture by Dana Beatty
Gift baskets
Picture by M and M Books

Local author Jane Melloy and illustrator Mary Campbell showed off their books in the morning, followed by a lovely appearance from Prima the Alpaca who looked stunning even in her wet coat.

Prima

While Prima busily greeted guests at the door, author M.L. Williams and I presented our books at a table and talked with a great group of locals. I had such a wonderful time sharing information about my story with new people and talking with a U of I student both about my writing process and The Iowa Writers’ House and The Writers’ Rooms. And of course, I always enjoy spending time with M.L. who, despite his grumbling, is one of the nicest people I know!

Myron and Erin

Also, my skull pen holder was a huge success. Who would have thought that a care package gift during my first college course, After Hamlet, would be such a big eye catcher.

Pizza was provided for everyone near lunch time, which was much appreciated and unexpected. Bill and Ursla really know how to take care of their guests!

Finally, Andrew Ridker, author of The Altruists and the big headliner, wrapped up the day with an incredible discussion about his book and a signing session. If you haven’t had a chance to check out The Altruists, go to his site and take a look. I loved his reasons for writing it as it definitely speaks to my generation.

Randy

So, despite the sleet and snow, it was a wonderful day, and I can’t thank M and M Books enough for all their hard work and their dedication to local authors. This is truly a great bookstore, and I hope that if you’re in the Cedar Rapids area, you’ll take some time to stop by and say hi. You never know what treasures you’ll find on their shelves.

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?

Self-Care for Writers

It seems fitting that I’m writing about self care after having to take time off of work due to a migraine. This is also why my post is coming out on a Wednesday. Normally I would have fought through it, kept working, and made it worse. The fact that I was going to write this post made me rethink my decision because, truthfully, if I’m going to tell you how to take care of yourselves, I need to listen to my own advice.

I’ve covered some of this in other posts, but I wanted to create a comprehensive list for anyone who feels burnt out or needs some support in regards to taking care of themselves. Many writers don’t know what kind of self care they should do when they feel low or if they need self care at all. Here are a few warning signs to start off.

  • Anxiety/depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of desire to write or writer’s block
  • Irritability
  • Self-doubt or feeling hopeless
  • Overwhelmed

Some are you going to say, “Well, Erin, I feel this all the time!” I understand. I feel a lot of this as well, but when it’s starting to affect your everyday life, you need to step back and take care of yourselves so you can stay healthy. A healthy mind and body will lead to better writing.

  • Take a break/ Do something you love: If you’re feeling low and the depression is creeping in, try to take a break and do something you love. Even if you think it’s just “wasting time,” it’s not if it makes you happy. Play video games. Read a book. Go to a pet store and play with some critters. Host a movie night. Watch youtube videos. Or sleep! Basically do anything except write if writing itself is causing so much stress. Contrary to what others say, you don’t have to write everyday.
  • Sleep: Writers are pretty bad about getting enough sleep. Either we stay up too late or get up too early trying to get those words out. Consider adjusting your sleeping schedule so you’re getting more rest both for your brain and body. You’ll find you’ll become more productive and feel better.
  • Get off social media: If you’re struggling with self-doubt or comparing yourself to others, get off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, etc. Shut technology down for a day and focus on you. Studies say that people often become more depressed after seeing all the accomplishments or exciting adventures their peers talk about on facebook. I know when I’m feeling overwhelmed, shutting down technology is my best route to recovery. It’ll still be there when you log on the next day.
  • Shower/Take a bath: If you’re stuck with writing, take a shower. Some of my best ideas come out there. And if you just want to get away from ideas and relax, take a shower or a bath for your body’s sake. I love how the water pounds across my ears and silences the world. For a moment, I just feel safe and like the world doesn’t need me. I’m doing this for me.
  • Take time for yourself: Make sure you’re taking enough time to rest and relax. If all you’re doing is overworking yourself to get that book done or meet social media standards, you’re going to burn out very quickly. Take time, again, to do something you love, or take care of yourself. Even setting aside a half hour a day to watch a favorite show or sit under happy lights is a great way to decompress.
  • Chores: This may seem like a strange thing to add in here if you’re stressed, but sometimes getting chores done helps me unwind. Cleaning, paying pills, making medical appointments, going shopping, etc.. Sure, it might be boring or frustrating at the time, but by the end of the day, you’ll have accomplished so much. Last Sunday I managed to get a bunch of chores done and that cleared my mind up to write for a little while.
  • Therapy: If you’re struggling with crippling self-doubt, depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, consider talking with a therapist. I see one regularly to help me keep my head on straight. People will say, “Oh, others have it worse” but whatever you’re going through is valid. If something is making you upset or hurting your quality of life, then it’s important to get that treated. Seeking out therapy is not a weakness. It shows strength.
  • Listen to your body: If you’re getting sick a lot, or you just don’t feel well, listen to your body. It may be telling you that it’s time to slow down. We only have one body and one brain. If either goes out on us, we’re in trouble. So take care of yourselves. If you’d tell someone else to go to a doctor, take off of work, or rest if they feel like you do, then please take your own advice.
  • Support team: Build a support team so that, when you’re struggling, you know who you can turn to. Maybe you just need someone to listen to you as you struggle through your writing ideas. Maybe you need a hug or a reminder that you’re enough. Either way, reach out when you need support. You don’t have to go this alone. That’s what’s both so important and wonderful about having a writing community.
  • Write your feelings: We may all get writer’s block, but I guarantee we can all write about how we’re feeling. No one else has to see it or know that you’re writing it. Create angry poetry, construct short stories, write a blog post…do whatever feels right to help you acknowledge your emotions and work through them.
  • Hydrate: When we get wrapped up in writing, it’s easy to forget some basic needs like drinking water. And sometimes we can forget that tea is a diuretic. So make sure you’re hydrating your body (even if it does mean a lot of pee breaks away from your computer).

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when things feel rough. I’m sure you all have your own self-care methods, so feel free to share them below!

Just remember, you matter, what you feel is valid, and you are worthy of self care.

Creating an Indiegogo Campaign For Your Novel

Over the past few months, I have been working with a couple authors to create an Indiegogo Campaign to help launch my book, The Purple Door District. As of October 15th, my campaign is live here and receiving some nice attention thus far. Some people have asked how I created my campaign and its purpose, so I thought I’d share some of that information with you.

What is Indiegogo? 

Indiegogo is another kind of Kickstarter campaign that helps creative folks receive contributions to go towards the creation of a product. While Kickstarter tends to focus more on technological advances, Indiegogo is more author and liberal arts friendly. You can find many authors trying to promote their books and graphic novels on the site. Generally, people will run a campaign for 30 days in order to reach a set goal. Kickstarter is an all or nothing thing. If you raise the money, then you get it. If you don’t meet your goal, you get nothing. Indiegogo offers that too, but it also provides a “flexible” goal. You can set your campaign for 30 or 60 days, and even if you don’t reach your goal, you still get to keep whatever you made

Why not just do flexible goal then? Well, studies show that the urgency of trying to make a 30-day goal that’s all or nothing actually encourages people to donate more and right on the spot. The disadvantage is, if you don’t make it, you get nothing. Since I’m happy to accept whatever contributions people are willing to give, I’ve made mine flexible.

What Are You Raising Money For? 

People usually raise money to help create/sell a particular product. In my case, I’m using my campaign to help me publish The Purple Door District. Indie publishing is not cheap. You basically wear the hat of the editor, publisher, marketer, distributor, etc. All of that money adds up, and sometimes you might not have quite enough in your bank account. I’ve personally enlisted artists, editors, proofreaders, and jewelers to help create swag for my book, causing my cost to go up. At the same time, though, this allows me to support other members of the literary community. So, in a sense, I’m raising money both for my book and for fellow creative minds.

Comm44 - Bianca Highres.jpg
Art of my main character Bianca by Oni Algarra on deviant art: https://www.deviantart.com/onialgarra

Tips for Creating a Campaign

  • Know your product: You must have a solid product in mind that you’re trying to raise money to create. Whether it’s a book, a fidget cube, a graphic novel, make sure it’s clear to your audience.
  • Figure out your budget: You have to know how much to ask for when you set up your campaign. Go through every single thing you spend money on, (ie. printing, setting up the book, editor, proofreader, swag, etc). Don’t leave anything out, and make sure you round up rather than down. It’s better to ask for a little extra than not enough. Create a list with all of your expenses, and then be honest with the people contributing to you. Break down the costs on your Indiegogo page so people know what their money is going towards. It’s better to open and honest.
  • Create a Video: Indiegogo indicates that you’re much more likely to receive donations if you have a video at the beginning of your campaign. This can just be you explaining your book, or perhaps presenting a book trailer. Be genuine in it and let people know just how much their help means to you. The more people know about the product, the more willing they may be to back it.
  • Perks: Now, while some people may be willing to make a donation, others will want something in return. This is where perks come in. Similar to patreon, you create different tiers. If someone contributes a certain amount, they may get a shout out, or posters and stickers. The bigger the contribution, the larger the return. You must make certain that you can actually provide the perks to the contributor, however, and in a reasonable time. People feel more valued if you get the items to them in a timely fashion. They should also be of good quality.
Give away
Samples of bookmark, sticker, mini poster, and necklace from one of my Perk packages. 
  • Publicize/Create a Street Team: The best way to get donations is by having a marketing plan. Create a street team of people who you know will be willing to share the link to your information. Set up days/times when you’ll post about your campaign, and make sure it’s to the right people. Know your audience and your readers. You don’t want to post about urban fantasy material in a mystery group. Also, don’t be obnoxious about it. While it’s important to market, make sure you follow the rules of groups that you post it to, and don’t invade someone’s privacy (ie, PMing random people to beg them to donate to you). That’s a great way to get blocked.
  • Be Responsive: When someone donates to you, let them know how much you appreciate it. They’re taking their time and their hard-earned money to help you bring your project to life. The least you can do is thank them. Answer any questions they might have, and give frequent updates so people know how close you’re getting to reaching the goal.
  • Pictures! Provide lots of pictures of your product. It lends agency to what you’re doing, and it also helps people visualize exactly what they’re going to get, or what you’re trying to do. Pictures also make your campaign eye pleasing. People are more likely to donate if you can show them what you’re making rather than describing it in a wall of text.

These are just a few tips I’ve learned while creating my campaign. I have Brian K Morris and Brenna Deutchman to thank for helping me set this up. It’s always good to have someone look over your campaign in case you’re missing something before you make it live. I’m sure I’ll have some failures and struggles along the way, so I’ll post about those as well.

If you have any questions about Indiegogo, or any topics you’d like me to cover, feel free to post them below!

Happy writing!

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!

Engaging Your Readers

As an author prepping to publish a book, I’m starting to realize how important it is to find your readers. Between reading blog posts both by Alexa Bigwarfe at Write.Publish.Sell and Jenn Hanson-dePaula at Mixtus Media, plus learning from my own experiences, I’m starting to see that the main key to finding devoted readers is to engage with them.

When we think of marketing, it’s common for people to plaster their links everywhere online with a “Look at me, look at me” attitude. I do it too, though I’m trying to get better at it. You don’t like telemarketers calling you repeatedly promoting their stuff, so why would you want to see the constant posts about books, unless you’re getting something in return?

This is where engagement comes in. Jenn Hanson-dePaula notes in her article How Authors Can Amplify a Small Audience that it’s not the number that necessarily matters, it’s the interaction. With a smaller audience, you can ask them what they want. What kind of work are they looking for? What about swag? Are there particular items they’d like to see go along with the book? How do they find authors? What social media platforms attract their attention most? Get your readers involved and listen to the advice they have to offer. It can help you modify your marketing platform, especially if you think you’re getting all the attention from wattpad, only to find out that twitter actually gives you the best following. Go check out her article. She has a ton of fabulous advice.

Twitter is a really great place to meet and chat with your readers. I mentioned in a previous blog post that you can find your community there. Well, that’s the same if you’re looking for readers. Talk with people who have the same interests. Find hashtags that you both share. Heck, post up some of your favorite movies, animals, shows, books, or hangouts. It doesn’t all have to be about your book. Your readers want to see that you’re a person, too. And honestly, that helps them connect with you better because then they don’t feel like you’re on such a high pedestal. For example, I’m doing #pitchwars this year, and when I found out that one of the mentors I was submitting to was an avid Avatar The Last Airbender fan, the intimidation I felt fled because I could connect with her due to our shared interest in the show. We’re all people; we all want to be treated that way.

When readers send you reviews, compliment your work, or show intrigue in your pitch, there are a couple of things to remember. One, thank them. They took the time to let you know how they felt. They deserve your gratitude. Second, if they’re writing a book too, ask them about it. I’ve made a lot of friendships both on twitter and wattpad simply because we had a lot of books in common (both through reading and writing!). Communicate. Have a conversation. Let them know that they’re important, too. Granted, it might take time to get back to them all, but if they can take the time to thank you, you can do the same.

Writing a book is a big deal, and you might feel like you’re offering plenty to your readers by publishing it. But there are other things you can do, too. Write helpful blogs for your readers. Not only does this bring them into your world, they get a taste of your writing, and you might be able to help them with something they’re struggling with. Part of the reason I write writing tip blogs is because that’s how learned. I read online blogs. I ask questions of the writers. I chat with the people in the comments, because I like to engage and learn from the community. Providing workshops, helpful tips, or even inspirational memes can brighten your reader’s day and let them know you care.

Writers are often introverted people, I get it. And maybe these kinds of ideas won’t work for you. So then, ask yourself, what would make you comfortable to interact with your readers? What can you do to work your way into the community that’s not going to stress you out too much, but also will give you a chance to find the people who want to buy your book? If you have ideas, feel free to post them in the comments!

I hope that this helps a bit! A big thank you again to Alexa Bigwarfe and Jenn Hanson-dePaula for all their inspirational posts.

Happy Writing!