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.

Writer Burnout

It’s fitting that I’m writing about this topic since I’m dealing with writer burnout myself. Let’s try some real talk. As a writer, no one is harder on you than yourself. You push yourself to write, edit, market, publicize, etc. When you publish a book, you wear all these hats, and you tell yourself you have to keep going every hour of the day. If you stop, what if you miss an opportunity? What if people think you aren’t working hard enough? What if you don’t meet a deadline? What if–

You snap.

Suddenly the world crashes down and you don’t know where to go, or who to turn to for help. Ideas vanish. You sense the start of a panic attack. Nothing you do feels right or enough. And sometimes, you just go numb because it’s all too much to deal with.

This hit me last week, and I’m slowly crawling my way out of it the depths as I write this blog while sitting in a Panera. One moment I was up and productive, and the next I was curled up in my bed, unable to move from complete mental and physical exhaustion. Last week, the only strength I had was to go to work then come home and sleep. I knew I should put up posts, tweet, be interactive with the community, edit, write, etc but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I opened a blank page on my computer, and I almost burst into tears because plucking ideas out of my head was like tearing at an infected scabs.

Not exactly a delightful image, but it’s the best way I can describe it. I was surviving on caffeine and doing everything I thought I could to edit and promote my book. The one important thing I forgot to do? Take care of myself.

When you get to the point that even opening a Word document makes you sick to your stomach, it’s time to step back from the page. You’re allowed to skip a day of editing, writing, and marketing. You’re allowed to get more than a couple of hours of sleep at night. And you are allowed to take care of yourself.

So what do you do when writer burnout hits you? Here are a couple of tips.

  • Sleep: If you’ve been falling asleep editing/writing your manuscript at night, it’s time to step back and go to bed. Your body and brain will thank you. Even better, it’ll refresh you.
  • Shut Down Social Media: It’s not the end of the world if you’re not on twitter/facebook for a day. My favorite thing to do is to shut off my phone and put on a good movie that makes me happy.
  • Do Something Else: Try another hobby that’s not writing related. Go on a short trip. Hang out with your friends. Allow yourself to enjoy the rest of your life while you recover.
  • Take Personal Time: On the flip side, if going anywhere is too exhausting, then rest at home. Read a good book. Listen to music. Cuddle your cat or dog or bird (in my case). Focus on self care. If you don’t mind your body, how do you expect to keep going?
  • Take a Mental Health Day: Whether it’s from work (if able) or from social events, just back out and do something for you. Get a massage. Cuddle up in warm blankets. Allow your brain to rest. Getting rid of the regular stresses might help you recharge.
  • Write Something Else: Believe it or not, sometimes if you have writer burnout, it may be due to a specific project. Try switching it up and write something that inspires you, whether it’s a short prompt, or a fun story you’ve had stuck in your head.
  • Be Kind: I can’t stress this enough. Be kind to yourself and realize this happens to everyone. Taking a break doesn’t make you a bad writer; quite the contrary. It means you’re being responsible for yourself. When you break your arm, you give it time to heal. You have to do the same thing when your muse breaks, so please, be kind to yourself.
  • Remember it Doesn’t Last Forever: When you get into this state, sometimes it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s there. Sure, there might be some smoke or shadows blocking it, but you’ll find your way to it, and your writing spirit will ignite again.
  • Make a Schedule: When you feel like you’re ready to jump into the fray again, take it slow. Create a schedule of things you want to do to get yourself up and running. And check off the things you accomplish. It’s a great feeling.

Please take care of yourself, my friends. It’s just as important to keep your mind healthy as it is your body.