Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Autotelic Arts and Professional Envy

There was this post I'd been thinking about writing for some time. It's not an easy one to write. It's always hard to admit to your darker sides, even when you know everyone has them.

The other day, I ran across this video and it pushed me to write what had been stirring in my head for some time. It's not very related. It is to some extent, I suppose, but... Well, watch first and then we'll talk.



I love Van Gogh. I have ever since the first painting of his I saw jumped out at me and said, "Hey, look at this!" At least they say that to me. The video talks about how "late" in life he decided to paint as a career/living/obsession. He was 27. That didn't sound terribly "late" in life to me, but then people do tend to live longer these days, so relatively, maybe it was.

Then I got to thinking: I was 30 when I began to take my off-and-on writing hobby to an obsessive (aka professional-minded) level. I do feel that was starting rather late, in as much as there were so many years I could have been working hard on it instead of playing at it so I'd be farther along by now. I see young women putting time and effort into their writing career at the age I was very busy with little kids. I don't regret that at all, but I sure could have been writing instead of doing cross stitch while they napped or were in school.

I do have a little bit of envy for those pursuing their writing so seriously so young, even though I realize my choices were mine and maybe what I needed to do at that time. Or I just didn't believe it would go anywhere, so I didn't bother until I had to write. For myself. Because I had to. There does come that point. If I'd found it earlier...

Anyway, my writing is autotelic. I write what I need/want to write, despite the way it doesn't fit today's market and that I may never be one of "those" names due to the fact that it doesn't fit. I even tried a couple of years ago to start a new direction under a different name along with my "need to write" stories, and they slid right back in to what I need to write, not what fits or what will profit financially.

I believe art should be autotelic.

I do.

Still, there's that other post I've been thinking about writing. That one where I talk about professional envy. My own, that is.

It's very hard to work so seriously for so long, as Van Gogh did, for little to no compensation while your writing friends and acquaintances are showing off their successes and big sales numbers and best seller statuses. It's hard. It's envy, of course, and we've all learned that envy is a bad thing.

I think it's not. I think envy is a wonderful challenge. Jealousy, now that's different. Jealous people tend to take it out on those of whom they're jealous, or they manage to hold it in and let it eat at themselves. There is nothing helpful about jealousy that I can see.

Envy, though, says yes, it bothers me that I'm working so hard and not getting the glory you're getting. It says, whether true or not, that my work is as good or better and deserves as much recognition. Maybe it does. But in all honesty, maybe it doesn't. Maybe they made the choice to write for the market and they're pulling the effects of that. Okay. So what? That was their choice, and it was a good choice. They deserve the good effects of their choices.

Does that mean it should be your choice, also, instead of whatever choice you made? Or maybe you didn't see and haven't heard how much struggle they already went through and you're making a sad assumption. Maybe your work isn't as good as you think. Maybe it's outstanding and you're just not hitting the right audience. Maybe...

There are too many maybes to list them all. The thing is: so what? Their path is their path. Your path is yours. If you aren't happy with that path, then use that envy productively. Acknowledge it. Realize you aren't a bad person simply because you're envious.

If you're envious, it means you care about your work. Yes? Caring is good.

If you're envious, it means you want to do better in some way. That's always good. Just figure out how and work toward that.

There is space for non-autotelic art. Obviously there is. Sometimes you can get lucky and what's autotelic is also commercial ("in"/easily salable) at the time you're working. That's a wonderful thing. If it's not and enough of your writing goal is income, then do both if you're able.

Van Gogh died a pauper having sold only one painting while still alive, due to his brother's efforts.

Personally, I find that extreme and I believe there has to be a better balance for autotelic artists. I know there is. I've seen very passionate, talented artists doing fairly well. That makes me envious at times, yes, but it also inspires me. When one person does it, it shows it can be done.

Take notes. Consider the how.

(If you have a loved one who will work hard to promote you when you can't afford to pay them, consider yourself lucky, too, and be sure to return their help as much as possible, which, from what I read, Vincent didn't do at all. Maybe that was part of his downfall. Maybe he needed to learn to give a bit more to others instead of always taking and expecting success before he felt able to give back. Sometimes that doesn't happen and being a leech off someone who cares about you never works out well.)

Professional envy can be very constructive. It can also be devastating. Which one it becomes depends on how you handle it.

Autotelic art can be amazingly creative and beautiful and long-lasting. It can also be soul shattering. Which one it becomes depends on how you deal with the natural results.

Never expect anything from your art. Hope. Work hard. Push yourself (but not beyond your limits). Keep going (or don't if it's too much to handle).

Be honest with yourself. Why are you doing it? For the sake of the art or for sales? Whichever it is, don't expect people to bend to your whims and support it just because you think it's worthy.

Yes, maybe it is. To you. To some. And that's great. But never expect.

Just create and trust.

In the meantime, do something that will support you. Cutting your art hours by having a "real" job or by giving to others while they help support you can be frustrating, yes, but it can also build your passion and create inspiration. It also creates respect.

I love Van Gogh's work. I do. But much of me thinks he would have been better off, physically and financially, if he'd taken up a side job that pulled him away from "it's all and only about my art and the heck with anyone and anything else" attitude. Because it's not. His beloved brother would likely have lived a longer and healthier life, as well, since he wouldn't have had the constant drain of a grown man constantly asking for more money for food and paint on top of supporting his own family.


Yes, at times I have trouble congratulating other writers on their successes. I admit it. That's part of being honest with myself. I still, though, am happy for them, because I know what kind of work and commitment it takes. I know I lack marketing skills and interest. I know I could be doing much more to promote my work. I'm quite sure I could spend more time working at the craft part of my books. There are always things that could be improved. My failures are my own, not theirs, and I remember that. It doesn't make it easier. It does make it acceptable.

Sometimes that's good enough, at least for the time being.

And if it becomes unacceptable, well, I need to improve what I'm doing in some way. Or, as the line I most remember from my grandpa, a very wise man, says,

"If you want to be as lucky as him, go out there and do what he's doing and you'll be lucky, too."

If you don't want to do "what he's doing" then your results will be different. When it comes to art, they will very likely be different anyway, because art is subjective and what's beautiful to one is ugly or blasé to others, but that's okay, too. You can't make people think the way you do or appreciate what you appreciate. You have to work with what is, even while striving for improvement, both your own, and your society's.

Be envious. And then put it to good use.

Be autotelic or don't. And realize the results will vary.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Remembering Desert Storm

Image from Rolling Thunder's Facebook Page
It seems this one has long been forgotten. We hear consistently about our troops coming home from the current seemingly never ending Middle East war that's supposedly no longer a war. Politics aside, they are still there fighting, and they're coming home needing a lot of assistance, physical and mental, that is falling through and failing them. We all, or many of us, agonize about that, as we should.

Yesterday, though, marked the 25th Anniversary of the start of Desert Storm, the 400 hour war after a several month buildup to be prepared, that achieved its objective quickly, freed Kuwait from Iraq's violent takeover, and then sent our troops back home.

Perhaps it's largely forgotten because it was so fast. Few troops had to lose their lives to free others. We went, drove the intruders back, and left, leaving only a small protective contingent. Yes, there are many political fallout issues that we could bring up, but that's not the point of my post.

The point is we shouldn't forget our well played quick victories. We should remember them. We also should remember that during Desert Shield and Desert Storm is when the country rallied full force for our military, starting what luckily has become an on-going "Support Our Troops" quest. In early 1991, nearly every house in rural America, and even in some city areas, flags were flown in support, often with yellow ribbons attached. People were wearing red, white, and blue. Support magnets showed up on cars everywhere you looked. The country was maybe as undivided as it has ever been, at least in troop support.

Of course there were still the protesters. There were still the ignorant civilians who spit on troops as they arrived home or went about their daily business, knowing full well our troops are not allowed to do one thing about it. We will always have ignorance. It's a part of every society.

Back then, though, if anyone heard of such an act, it fueled anger and more support.

Now...

I suppose one effect of a long drawn-out war with no clear goal has to numb the general population to some extent. It does not at all numb the troops and families directly involved, however. We mustn't forget them, no matter how long it runs. We lose ourselves as a nation when we forget those who sacrifice for us.

It's hard for me to believe Desert Storm was 25 years ago. My grandchildren are now about the age my daughter was when her father left to serve. She was nearly two when he left and just over 2 when he came home, the second birthday he'd had to miss because duty called. Watching the news casts with that huge pit in my stomach wondering just what part of the thing he was in (since my protective soldier didn't want me to worry more than necessary and wouldn't tell me until he was home), on the 24th of February, 1991 when the Storm hit, and wondering if my baby girl would ever really know her father because he was away helping other mothers and babies, is a feeling you can't understand until you're there.

Police spouses understand, of course. On a regular basis. Especially those in rougher areas. And we should never forget that, either.

These days, most of the military novels I've read or heard about deal with soldiers coming back from war with PTSD,. I understand it's an issue. I understand they are not getting the right help. Mainly, they get drugs thrown at them that often only make it worse and nothing more.

Those guys coming back from the front lines of Desert Storm didn't "have PTSD" as in, it wasn't a thing yet. They dealt with it. Their families dealt with it. It was a different time with more and less support.

But I got off track...

Not all soldiers are going in for help with mental issues that come with every war. Some of them, most of them, dust themselves off, pick themselves up (with any luck they'll have family support as they do so), and continue their paths in or out of the service. We don't hear much about them. We never hear much about those quietly dealing with their own issues and managing to live good, productive lives despite whatever personal horrors they have faced or are facing. That's sad. We should. They are the majority. We should remember that, as well.

If you want to meet one, fictionally but very realistically, you're welcome to check out my Desert Storm based book, Moondrops & Thistles. I won't link it here because that's not what this post is about. Look it up if you like. My DS vet husband read it and attests to the realism. What I didn't know from experience, I asked him or other DS vets about, in particular, the aviation parts of the story.

If you're too young to know what Desert Storm is, do some research. If you've forgotten, especially the patriotic fervor of the time, try to remember. Our history matters. It's part of us. Look beyond what history class teaches you. There's so much more out there that explains what we don't already
know. Knowing matters.

John Jakes' Kent Family Chronicles is a nice place to start.


What other American History fiction would you recommend? What do you remember about Desert Storm? (Keep in mind this blog is run by a military(RET) spouse and attack comments will be promptly deleted.)

Monday, February 15, 2016

No Pneumonia Here


"Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia." Kurt Vonnegut


Life is constant reinvention, at least for some of us intent on growing and exploring as much as possible. The same is true with writers not content to stay in a pigeon hole some publisher creates. Those who are content to do so generally do well with it, and that's great. There's a big audience for those well-promoted genres. The rest of us ... well, we have to figure out how to find an audience for our not-so-well-promoted little niches.

That's a long-winded way to say I've been playing with a new tagline for my LK books. I recently updated the artwork (headers and icon) for EMK, plus the tagline. Now it's on to revamping LK a bit. No, I've never been one to sit still well. I'm always looking for different and better. My daughter says "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" was written for me. As Loki said in in Thor: The Dark World, "I don't do satisfied." (from memory - could be a bit misquoted, but the gist is the same) I liked Loki better from that line forward. I get it.

I like my current tagline: Literary Romance with an Artsy Twist, but I don't think it's coming across well. "Literary" tends to turn people off, unless they love 700 page rambling insightful slow books (yes, I am one of those, at times). "Romance" turns people away unless they like the bodice-ripper kind of stories, or 100 page fast meet-and-fall in love books. I like romance. I'm a romantic. But I'm not really THAT kind of romantic. I'm somewhere between the two, which is what my tagline was supposed to say. I don't think it's working. So, my new tagline:

Conservative Fiction for the Intellectual Romantic

What do you think?

I put it out on my personal Facebook page to a limited group of people to ask their thoughts the other day. Most who replied loved it, said it made them stop and think, which is part of the idea. I did get some dissent, a good point that it would likely turn off more liberal readers. That's probably true, and I did consider as much, but as I explained, any reader "liberal enough" to let the tagline turn them away is likely not going to enjoy my work, anyway. Not everyone will. It is on the conservative side, although I have characters on all sides of all lines providing point and counterpoint, wider POVs than just my own. I don't like to read preachy fiction, so I don't write preachy fiction. I do write societal and cultural fiction. My main characters do tend to be on the conservative side. And why shouldn't they be? Liberal fiction is everywhere; liberality dominates current fiction. I know. I read plenty of it. One of my favorite authors has bent so far that direction, I stopped reading him. Point: not everyone wants that. A lot of us don't. Whereas we may enjoy reading different points of view that don't agree with our own, and I do think that's important, we don't necessarily want everything we read to tell us we're haughty, greedy, evil, stupid, etc. (yes, I have read plenty of fiction that says exactly that) because we're more conservative than the current tide.

I'm not trying to make love to the whole world when I write. I'm trying to tell a good, deep, well-rounded story with thoughts I ponder often and questions I constantly have. Some of it tends to be a bit more liberal and not all conservatives will agree with me. Overall, though, it is moderate conservative fiction, and I'd rather those on either extremist side not bother than to rant and rave about expecting one thing and getting something else (kind of like the new Deadpool ad that tells parents PLEASE DON'T take your minor children to see the movie and then rant about how horrible it was for them to see when it's rated R for a reason!).

Why shouldn't we have "conservative fiction" that is not "Christian fiction"? There's room for all of us.

As for the "intellectual romantic" part of the line, yes, my books are heavy on romance, but it's not genre romance. It's relationship development wrapped around a societal story. It's the why of two people coming together, how they deal with conflicts that threaten them being together, why they decide to overcome them or not, how others interfere, including family and friends. It's supposed to make a reader stop and think.

In short, I'd rather put out the call to those who want to philosophize a bit as they read, who are interested in varying viewpoints and will consider them, and who love a good story with in-depth characters who understand the value of morality and have differing ideas about how to best love one's neighbors than to attract a wider group of readers who very well won't be interested. One of my characters is fighting the effects of pneumonia, but I'd rather not.

[If you prefer shorter and a bit less philosophical/intellectual love stories, I have that in my Ella M. Kaye line. ;-) ]

Of course this means I'll need new artwork to match the new tagline...

Monday, January 18, 2016

It's About The Way They Make You Feel

And yet another...

I rarely comment on celeb happenings, even celeb deaths. Everyone hears about it already. I don't tend to see the need to plaster it all over everywhere when it's not personal to me. I do often share news of fallen, injured, or lost service members, because that doesn't tend to be widely known, and that is personal. Sad state of journalism, but there we are. With celebs, in general, I can feel for their loved ones and for those who loved them and move along without the need to talk about it.

Still, sometimes people you didn't actually know have much more effect on you than those you do know, have had contact with, maybe even grew up with. We all have social media friends we've never actually met who are far closer friends than some of our in-person friends. They don't matter less because we haven't technically met.

As an Eagles fan, I do mourn Glenn Frey's passing, as I did David Bowie, to less extent since I listened/listen to Eagles on purpose and Bowie only when I run across it on the radio. Music is art. Songwriters who touch your heart absolutely matter in your life. Who knows what kind of things they got you through, how much they lifted you when you were low, how much joy they brought simply by sharing their heart and soul through words and music. The same is true of all artists. They matter, whether or not we know them personally.

Art, when shared, is meant to make us feel. Artists are like those internet friends; we know them through their words, their shared images, their shared expression.

Back when I was working day care, one of the signs I most remember said, "Years from now, children won't remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel."

That's exactly right. It's about the way someone makes us feel.

I don't always personally understand someone's grief for a singer, etc. because that particular artist didn't touch me. However, I never put others down for doing so. Apparently, that artist mattered to them. Who am I to tell them they're wrong or silly or over-reacting?

Yes, I've had plenty of more personal grief and health scares to deal with, like everyone has, so I expect. One doesn't deflect the other, not unless you let your grief harden you. I don't imagine the loved ones you grieve would ever want to do such a thing to you as to make you hard due to their passing.

Feelings matter, even sad, miserable, lonely, awful feelings. They matter. That's why we write about them, paint them, sculpt them, act them. Decrying someone else's sadness is like telling someone with depression to just get over it, it's not a big deal, because you don't personally understand it. It's hard and unfeeling.

Be careful with that. People will remember if you make them feel that way.

So yes, I mourn Glenn Frey. I hold fond memories of the way I feel when I hear their music, when I sing with their lyrics. It matters.

Rest in peace, and with our unending thanks.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Vision and Verse: Interview with Author LK Hunsaker

Thank you to author Carol Ann Kaufman for the wonderful interview!

Vision and Verse: Interview with Author L.K. Hunsaker

(My name is written as LK without the punctuation, but some book sites have it listed as L.K., so if you might need to check it both ways when trying to find my books.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Formatting Tips for Self-Publishers

Since putting together the first annual* book festival in our little area last year, I’ve made it a quest to pick up and read fellow local authors’ books, for the support and to help me get to know them. I’m of the opinion you don’t really know a writer until you read their work, no matter how much time you spend with them personally. Also, I can’t say I support indies if I don’t physically support them. That would be awfully hypocritical and hypocrisy is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Anyway, it’s a different thing to read indies in electronic format, which I’ve been doing for years, than it is in print format. They are different things.

And they must be formatted differently.

A few reminders and tips for authors trying to double their roles and format their own print books (which I also do, so yes, it can be done right by a lowly author **joke intended**).

I am not a publishing professional, other than doing my own books over the past twelve years. I learned the following by studying big-pub prints and doing plenty of research, and sometimes by making mistakes with my own books. All rules can be debated, of course, but I’m a big believer in first knowing the rules before you decide which not to follow.

~ Let’s start with the cover.

1) Look at books in libraries and bookstores. Do any of them say “by Author Name”? Only a few children’s books do that and it’s to differentiate between the author and the illustrator, since illustrations are as big a part of children’s picture books as the story. Even then, in most cases, the author is simply listed and the illustrator gets an “illustrated by” tag. If you don’t write picture books, do not put “by” in front of your name.

2) Be careful about throwing a photo on the cover and just adding some text. Play with borders and effects and collages, but be sure it doesn’t look like you grabbed a few stock photos and just threw them all together. That screams amateur. If your cover screams amateur, it won’t matter much how professional your writing may be.

3) The spine and back are part of the overall look with a print book. Don’t spend all of your focus on the front and then just throw the rest together with some text. Make it a full picture, not necessarily one picture wrapping all the way around, but an entire work of art combined carefully to package your precious book.

~~ For the inside:

1) Again, look at professionally printed novels. They all include a cover page, a copyright page, sometimes a second cover page with publisher info. Pay attention to whether these things are on the left or right side and do it the same.

2) Most novels do not have or need a table of contents. For ebooks, yes. Not for prints. Take that out unless you have a very long, complex story divided into sections other than only chapters. Even then, it’s probably not necessary. If you feel it is necessary, look at how it’s done in professionally formatted books. A long row of

1. chapter 1
2. chapter 2
3. chapter 3…

looks unprofessional, especially when it’s left-aligned like the text.

3) Your front matter, everything before the first page of chapter one, should not have page numbers. Most novels don’t include the page number on page one of a chapter, either, but that’s at least acceptable. Your front matter doesn’t count as “pages” and should not pretend to count. Page 1 is page one of chapter 1.

Different software handles this formatting issue differently. I use Word to write and format, which isn’t the easiest program to use for that, so I’ve heard, but I use section breaks to accomplish cutting out the page numbers in the front matter and not having page numbers on the first page of each chapter. It is a learning curve, but there are online tutorials to help you accomplish this.

4) Use serif fonts, not non-serif fonts. Why? It’s easier on the reader’s eyes and better for flow. What’s the difference? A serif is the little line at the end of a stroke. This blog is typed in a serif font called Georgia. See the little extra marks on the bottom of the letters? That creates flow. This, on the other hand, is Arial, the most common non-serif font. It looks far more staccato (sharp and detached). Cambria is a common printed book text. So is Garamond, and it might be the most used among professional self-publishers. Georgia works, also. You can use Times New Roman, but I would stick with something prettier and less all-purpose for print books. It works well for e-books, though. If you use a non-serif font, use it purposely for effect, but be aware it might be a bit off-putting to your reader. Novels should flow. Keep your font at 11 pt or smaller, also. Print a page of it and compare it to a professionally formatted novel. Slight differences are fine. Big fonts look unprofessional. (Obviously this doesn’t apply to picture books.) Even that little difference in fonts makes a difference in overall reading experience, and print book readers are about the experience!
**I meant to use each different font within this paragraph, but Live Writer isn't working so I have to make do. 


5) Do not double space. Double spacing is for submissions, not for printed books. Use your word processor to add some extra space between your lines, like this blog post, but not double. That makes it look like you want your book to appear longer than it is, just filling up page count, which seems disingenuous. Also, do not leave extra wide margins, since that gives the same impression. There are plenty of resources online to help determine how big your margins should be. For my 5.5 x 8.5 books, I have the top margin at .6 to allow space for my header that includes the page number, and the rest are at .4 with a .25 gutter with mirror margins so the gutter stays on the correct side.

6) Also, do not double space between paragraphs. Keep it the same as the rest of the text and indent paragraphs! This is different than for ebooks where it’s common practice to double space between paragraphs. That’s fine, although there is some debate about that practice, as well, and it has flowed over somewhat into print books to leave space between paragraphs rather than indenting, but look at big pub books. How many are doing so?

7) Left-align or justify? This can go either way. It’s becoming more acceptable to left-align books. If you do this, you’ll want to use hyphens so you don’t have huge gaps at the ends of lines, but you want to hyphenate sparsely. Your word processor should give you the choice. Most of my books are justified (which could make a good joke), but for my very long Rehearsal books, I decided to left-align instead because I wanted that extra flow. After printing the first one I did myself (book 3, since the 1st two were formatted and printed through a company I’m no longer using and will be redone), I noticed too many gaps at the end because of no hyphenation. I don’t like every other sentence to hyphenate, so I took them out, but that was too extreme. I’ll be reformatting that book to include adding sparse hyphens. (You live and you learn!)

~
I may be forgetting a few things. Do you have any tips or annoyances to share relating to formatting? If it’s something of which I’m guilty, I’d rather know than to blindly keep doing it wrong or annoying the reader. I may annoy them now and then with a character’s opinions or actions, but that’s just part of the job. ;-)

~~
*Yes, “first annual” is a correct usage for an event that will be a continuing event. Annual says it will continue. First says it’s the debut of a continuing event. In this case, it’s not redundant, but only an attention-getting modifier.


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Help Literacy on Giving Tuesday

I often support Toys for Tots through the Marine Corps. Giving a charity money can feel, as a friend said recently, like you’re throwing it down a black hole. You’re never sure where it’s going exactly. I’ve supported a lot of different things through the years, but lately, I’ve been focusing on local groups that put it right back into the community.

I don’t, however, take toys. I give books. Sometimes they’re cute ones I find at my local indie bookstore. Sometimes they’re my own.

When Grammerly put out the call to help support literacy on Giving Tuesday, I figured I’d combine the two.

Stanley-BothVersions-4in
I’m taking 5 copies of Stanley: A Raindrop’s Story, paperback version, to our local Toys for Tots drive. Kids need books. Some kids desperately need books. Stanley is a little raindrop who discovers why he should always keep looking up even through hard times. If you want to add to the number of these books that go out to children, I’m running a Giving Tuesday special. Order a hardcover of Stanley through My SITE via the Paypal links at the bottom, and I’ll donate an extra paperback to Toys for Tots.

Of course, you can also go to Grammerly’s site where they have global literacy giving links.

Global Literacy Infographic

Thursday, October 08, 2015

How to Attend a Book Signing

AuthorSignIn this case, I mean “attend” as in not simply going to an event, as author or reader, but as in the more powerful managing of the event once you’re there.

By now, I’ve done plenty of both. As a potential reader of an author I don’t know, I realize it can be intimidating to go up and actually talk to that Author. The term author has a valuable and highly esteemed place in our society, as I believe it should have, and that does often make those who don’t understand those odd creative people who can grab characters from nowhere and make them real a bit wary. Understood. I feel that way about musicians, even if I do understand the creative process.

Also, as an author, when most of us are introverts, it can be very hard to sit there and try to feel like we deserve that esteemed place in society and sound like we do. Most of us have also been taught not to brag. Of course promoting ourselves (because our books are part of ourselves) while not wanting to brag and not feeling all that esteemed and valuable can be quite the conundrum.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way for both authors and readers. Note: author tips are meant for indie and small press authors without a big name that sells for them automatically.

Authors:

1) Dress nice but comfortably, and in keeping with the book signing venue. If you’re out at a farm market or other outdoor arts and crafts show, jeans and a nice shirt are fine and expected. If you’re in a bookstore, you might pull it up a notch. The bookstore owner will appreciate if you show your respect for her store by dressing up for the event. And readers will look at you as more of a professional if you look professional.

2) If you must have your cell phone or tablet with you (and I always have mine so family can reach me if needed), keep it silent and out of the way. If you’re playing on an electronic gadget as someone who might have been interested walks by, they’ll keep on walking.

3) Say hello and smile. Many readers will wait to decide whether to engage you by whether you initiate contact. If you sit back slumped in your chair and wait for them to lead, they’ll usually walk on by. It can be hard to make yourself do this, but it gets easier the more you do it. (If this avowed social phobic hermit writer can do it, so can you!)

4) Don’t be pushy. You might sell more books short term with aggressive tactics, but you also may leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth and make them less likely to approach you or another author again.

5) Have promo handouts available! This is very important. At a minimum, have business cards with your website so readers can go look you up easily. (If you don’t have a website, you should have. Seriously. Free blogs can work well for this – just make sure all of your book info is on it.) I’ve approached authors who had nothing but their books at their tables and of course once I got home, I didn’t remember their names well enough to look them up. Book signings are often no more than putting your name out there. There’s little point if you don’t have something to send with potential readers. Few will buy from you the first time they see you or your name. You have to build up for sales.

I also recommend having excerpts available, at least one, so they can check out your writing style. I’ve had people take an excerpt, walk away and read it as they walked away, then turn around and come back to buy. There are a lot of indie and small press authors out there. Readers are getting wary, as they should. Show them why you’re worth the read.

Readers:

1) If you might be interested but aren’t up for a chat, we fully understand if you’d like to simply take a card and check us out later. You can tell us you’d rather do that. If we’re prepared well enough, we’ll hand you an excerpt or let you know how you can read one online. I almost never buy a book without reading a bit first. I would guess most authors are the same, so we understand.

2) If you run across a hard sell author, ask for a business card and move along. You shouldn’t feel pressured into buying something as precious as a book.

3) There’s no need to be afraid to talk to us! Most of us are really just very glad if you’ll stop to look, and if you’d like to talk about our work, that’s great, too. Don’t be surprised if we’re nervous. As said above, most of us are better with print words than with spoken words. We’re often unsure whether to brag about how great our books are or remember our humility teachings. It’s a constant struggle and we’re honored by your interest.

4) If you ask which of our books is our favorite or which we’d recommend for you, you’ll likely get some stammering. The writing of a book is only part of its value. The rest is what you put into when you read and your likes are different than ours. Hopefully, our back cover blurbs will suggest which you should try first. But if you ask, we will do our best to answer!

5) Remember that local authors are usually indie or small press published. We have genres and plots that vary from “what’s in” that the big pubs are most likely to print. We often include local areas in our work. We don’t have big time NY editors, but we do have a love of stories and lots of personal experiences that go into our work. Some of us are new on the book scene; others have been at it for years. We aren’t bound by what someone else thinks should be written or published. We may mix 5 different genres into one story. If one of us doesn’t fit your personal reading needs, another one of us surely will.

When you buy from local authors, you are supporting local families, local businesses, and the local community. Instead of bypassing that “local authors” section in your local bookstore, head there first. You never know what gems you might find!

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These are simply some of my thoughts from my experiences. Feel free to add to or argue with any of the above suggestions in the comments.  We all have different takes on things. I love to hear other peoples’ thoughts.
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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Meet the Authors event in Hermitage

Meet the Authors event in Hermitage

Yes, I did a quick TV interview about this event with Leana Hillard, owner of Leana's Books and More at the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage PA. Yes, it was nerve-wracking. Yes, I would agree again. Hey, I'm an indie. I try not to turn down promo ops. ;-)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

No Book Fest In Your Area? Create One!

West PA Book Festival attendees

Most authors who attend book fairs designed to get a bunch of readers to come to one place at one time to, with any luck, buy books, are small name authors, often indie these days. They have other jobs, family obligations, house stuff to take care of, kids to feed, etc. And they’re mostly unknown.

Of course the big book fairs such as the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. started by first lady Laura Bush brings in big names such as John Irving and R. L. Stein. They can afford to do so, and it’s a wonderful opportunity. (I have a personally signed book by Irving and won’t soon forget talking to him in person, for about 10 seconds before moving along so the long, long line could advance.) However, some of the brightest gems are hidden in the dark mines of obscurity and you can find them at smaller, local book fairs.

Most of us mostly unknown authors with shining gem books waiting to be found are always looking for opportunities to help them be found. Social media can only do so much. Talking face-to-face with your potential readers can’t be beat. Readers like approachable authors. They still like print books. And they love to have personally signed books by authors they meet.

If you have a book fair nearby, and if the fee to attend isn’t too extravagant for your budget, definitely GO. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking for those of us who are introverts (and that’s a very high percentage of authors). Yes, it’s a gamble as to whether you’ll sell enough to be worth the gas money (because you don’t want to count on making even minimum wage for the number of hours you sit out there wracking your nerves trying to sound like an intelligent writer-person worth GeneJordanreading). Still, connecting not only with readers but also with other writers is an important part of the job. There are things you can’t learn from Tweeting and Liking and Commenting. Get out there and do it in person.

Don’t have a book fair nearby? Create one.

Seriously.

Yes, most of us are introverts. We like to stay in our comfort zone. We don’t have organizing event experience. So what? No one does their first time. Start small.

I just did this. Now, not only am I the typical introvert author, I’ve also fought debilitating social phobia (now called social anxiety disorder) since I was a pre-teen. No, I don’t just mean I get nervous talking in groups. I mean I get nervous talking to one friend or going grocery shopping or asking to try on clothes before I buy them (generally, I just risk it instead).

But this book thing is very important to me. Not only my books. But books. Reading. In general. Widely. Avidly. I’m on a quest to encourage more people do that again because it’s important.

Since the closest book fair isn’t very close to me out here in the boonies where I can generally be a hermit writer, and since it also has a pretty steep attending fee, I’ve never gone. I have too many obligations to just pack up and travel to the big book fairs. The idea of going out to places I’ve never been and trying to keep my nerves calm enough to be able to speak to potential readers makes me cringe. Physically. And mentally.

So, this year I created one. A book festival. Locally. Right here in the area where I’m comfortable. Of course, it took months of work and eliminated some of my own writing time, but in the end, it was definitely worth it. We got a good crowd for our small area, plenty of praise for the event, nice publicity for area newspapers before and after the event, and even notes of praise for doing something good for the community from a state senator.

The biggest benefit, though, is sharing your books and your love of books with your community, and helping to support your own community of local authors.

The process (not necessarily in this order, except for #1):RhondaPaglia

1) Get a local author network going well ahead of time. This is easily done with social media groups and email. A couple of years ago, I started a local author Facebook group and made it private so we could share information. I stayed on the lookout for authors in the area not yet in the group and emailed to invite them. Not all are on Facebook, so I also have an email list to send out pertinent information. Along with this, I made flyers to take to our local bookstore which stocks local author books inviting any of them stopping in the store to join us.

2) Put up a website. I used Blogger which doesn’t cost anything, then bought a domain name to attach to it to make advertising easier and more professional. I use the blog feature to highlight authors who agreed to attend and pages for information. You can find it HERE. (We had a fairly steady stream of views from the time we started advertising, and a huge jump the month before the event when papers started covering us, also a huge jump after the event.) There are plenty of free sites you can use, but some demand an upgrade in order to attach a domain name. You can always start with a blog and upgrade later, although I find the blog format very helpful and easy to update.

3) Get help! Four local authors were so excited about the event from the beginning that they asked to help in any way they could. So I made them fest committee members. Trust me, it’s a good amount of work. If you have trust-worthy people willing to help, take them up on it!

4) Find a place. We have a local farmers market on one street of the courthouse square and a beautiful courthouse lawn that hosts events such as the summer community concert series. The farm market has to have insurance to operate and MollieLyonthey were glad to host us under their name on a market day so we could use their insurance and help draw people to the market. If this idea won’t work for you, ask a local business with a large yard or parking lot, or ask your town’s chamber about using the sidewalks. Check into the legalities. Be sure there is restroom availability for your authors, as well as food, water, etc. Maybe even invite local food vendors.

4) Decide what to charge authors to attend. I decided to make it free for authors in order to encourage participation in an event none of us would be sure how it would turn out.  Be careful about doing this. Promo, even cheap promo, adds up fast. Before you start ordering promotional material, get a feel for how many authors you might count on to attend. Start small and build as you’re able.

2015FestBookmark-md5) My biggest promo for the event was bookmarks with the event, date, place, and time featured. You’ll want a logo of some kind for your website and your promo material. I do design work, so this was not an issue. Get help if you need it. A high school art student/club in the area may be willing to create a logo and do design work for exchange publicity. I had two bookmarks printed on a 4x6 postcard, uploaded it to Vistaprint, and then cut them out with my handy paper cutter. If you watch for a sale, you can get them for not too much expense. Or go to a local printer and see what price you can get. Maybe they’ll be willing to give you a deal in return for a sponsorship. Committee members helped to take stacks of these to local libraries and our local bookstore, along with an event flyer. This was very effective promo, as it also brought in more authors. Also suggest your authors take some to their book signings before the event if they have any.

6) Having a Facebook/other social media page for the event is a good idea. Authors and others can share your posts to their pages. Free, easy promo!

7) Draw up an author contract that details what they need to bring, etc. You’ll want to have a print copy for each author to keep on record.

8) Keep track of your expenses. For legalities. You can use your own account since this is an event and not a business or charity. But keep track. You shouldn’t make a profit on attending fees or sponsorships. It should all go back into the event.

9) Get sponsors! Go to local businesses and ask for their support in return for listing them on your website and event flyers. I also created a literacy brochure with facts and statistics that show the benefits and necessity of reading and included higher level sponsors on that, as well. Events that bring people to your community is good for the community, including local businesses. Keep your sponsorship levels low enough that small businesses can be included. Many of them are struggling, as well.
CathyCoulterReading
10) Arrange a time for author readings, at least for children’s authors. Children’s events bring in parents.

11) Close to the event date, create event flyers listing the attending authors with genre and other special events, such as readings. I used rack cards for EventFlyer-2015-100pthis.

12) If you get enough sponsors to help pay expenses, have giveaways at your event. You can also have gear that will help bring in funds. We had tote bags with our logo (reusable that also work for farm market produce bags), stylus pens with our tag line and website address, and bumper stickers for sale at the event. With enough sponsorship, these can be giveaways. Our giveaways included the remaining promotional bookmarks and bright green pencils with our tagline and website printed on them. I ordered a ton of pencils since I ran across a sale at the company I use for promo material, and at the end of the event, I handed a bunch to each author to share as advertisement for next year’s fest.

13) Ask for volunteers! High school students looking for volunteer hours or local book lovers may be very willing to come help for the day. Authors may need spells for lunch, etc. if they don’t have a helper with them. You also need someone to man the welcome tent where your event flyers and other giveaways will be stationed, along with a raffle if you do one, and people to answer questions by authors and wandering book lovers.  (I was incredibly lucky to have a lot of help from my family, along with a local book lover who just wanted to help.)


AuthorSign14) Consider Extras: We had a big sign out front that announced what we were doing (learning experience: next year it will be bigger). I also designed, printed, and laminated individual author signs with their genre for the front of each tent. I’m fortunate to have a husband who works with wood and he made holders to staple the signs on (learning experience: next year, taller stakes).

A caveat: for an outdoor event, tent space can be an issue. Not all authors have tents/canopies or the ability to tote a 10x10 tent in their vehicle. Check with local places to see about renting tents for those who need it, but place the charge on the authors. Don’t take on too much yourself!

Also, have a rain date! Books and wind with rain do not mix. We were lucky this year and only had heat to contend with. That won’t always happen.

RaffleWinnerAs a thank you to the farm market for sponsoring us, I took up a donation of one book from each author to raffle all together. You could also do groups of books in genres if you have enough authors. The proceeds went to the farm market. If you don’t need a thank you gift, use it to help pay expenses or to go to a local literacy group/library/etc.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and very welcome in the community. So go ahead, start your own! Questions? Ask away…

Be sure to check out our 1st Annual West PA Book Festival website to see which authors jumped in and took a risk with me to get this going!

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Next post: Preparing for and attending a book festival as an author.