Sunday, October 28, 2012

Author Authorly and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Book Signing (that turned out all right)

I had my debut book signing yesterday. I learned few things. Here's the obligatory blog post :P

My book officially "came out" on Sept 1st, 2012 and a book signing was scheduled for October 27th. I was excited and ready to barrel ahead and take over the world. I ordered postcards and author copies and rack cards and other such Authorly Behavior. I figured I would get a story in the paper and hand out all my postcards plenty early. I thought maybe I would even take a day or two off work the week before and do nothing but write on my current project, just to celebrate. But when the time finally rolled around, it was clear the master plan was straying from my carefully drawn lines.

About two weeks before, a library co-worker asked what I had to set up on my tables and how long I would need before. I stopped. I thought. Set up? I had books. Books and pens. Surely that's all I would need for a book signing. They were going to have food. I just needed the books, right? Well, it was suggested that maybe I get some antiques to put around or some reenacting gear, since it is an historical fiction. A table cloth might be nice too. All right.

I haven't reenacted in over 5 years and I gave away everything antiquey when I moved, so I was sure I was out of luck. Still, I went home and rummaged through the closets thinking perhaps I'd left a victrola or something somewhere and forgotten about it. Nope. But I still had time. I'd figure it out later.

Awhile before this I asked the newspaper for a story. They said no because I was self-published. (Even though I know of other self-published authors and bands that had independently recorded their albums having had stories in the paper. Maybe they were just as stubborn as I was.) At any rate, since it was a community event, sponsored by the library, I got an interview. I hoped the story would be out at least a week before the signing.

The week of my book signing arrived and when I went to sign a day off I was offered more hours. Being the starving artist I am I couldn't say no, so I just figured I'd work a lot and have my book signing as a reward. No problem.

Yes, problem.

Monday night I woke up ill. Not just ill. Beloved coming back from the dead crawling up out of the river ill. I had 8 hours scheduled Tuesday and I almost cried when I called in sick since I had taken Saturday off for my book signing. So I wallowed in despair under the covers and dragged myself out Wednesday.

It was then I checked around and found that no story had been published yet in the paper. I would have to wait until Friday, the day before the event. I also realized I only had two days to find display pieces for my table. Panic set in.

Thursday night I was emailed a proof of the story that would run in the paper. Sure it would be a day before, but at least it was in. No problem.

Yes… Problem.

There was some incorrect information about my freelance work, my protagonists name was spelled wrong and I was quoted as having used "Creative Space" to publish my book. I immediately called the editor and asked if changes could be made. No, it had already gone to print. But a correction could be put in at a later date.

I was upset but even I knew I was being somewhat petty. I mean, what would the headline read? Author Angry that Name of Person She Made Up Spelled Wrong. No, no correction. At least the date and time of the signing was correct.

So, I was still sick the day before and at work someone at the grocery asked if I was excited about the big book signing. "Oh," I said, "Honestly I'll be happy when it's over."

He then told me that was a sad attitude to have and I couldn't possibly expect people to pay money for something I wasn't even proud of.

Well, I wanted to go on a longwinded explanation that I was high as a kite on meds, had been misquoted in the only press about the book, and still didn't even have a table cloth. Not to mention I had gone from typing 700 words a day on my current project to 0 words a day in a stagnant pool of literary doom. But I was losing my voice so I shortened it to something like, "Here are your bananas, have a nice day."

I went on break and took more pills and stewed over the comment. Then I decided he was right. There was nothing I could do about the newspaper article, but I should definitely take some action to show pride in the book and the signing. I began picking every crevice of my brain for interesting, fall or history themed items to spice up my table. In a fit of medicinal desperation I bought the only thing I could think of at the grocery: a basketful of decorative gourds.

When I got them home I laid out the bumpy alien monstrosities over the coffee table and had a nervous breakdown. GOURDS? What was I thinking? I went to take a nap and recollect my thoughts, but the best I got was gluing googly eyes on one and setting it on my table in front of my books. Then I would sneak off into a corner with cookies and a bottle of peach schnapps and have an enjoyable time. Then maybe if Author Gourd said anything, people would listen close enough to get its quotes right.

Upset that I was actually wanting to send a googly-eyed gourd in my place to my first ever book signing I placed a text to fellow local author Laurie Hartman who I have worked with at events and always has a spectacular table. I asked to borrow some book stands. She texted back that indeed I could and she'd bring some antiquey things to set around. Hallelujah! I collapsed in a heap of neurosis for the night.

I got up on Saturday and didn't have to take medicine. Good sign. And then my husband surprised me with an electric blanket that I've been wanting for awhile. (Best husband ever, I would like readers to know).

I luckily had the foresight to make a list and unlike every other big event in my life (graduations, wedding) I didn't forget anything! And Laurie swooped in with her gear and she and my family set up a beautiful display while I was helping/pacing around like a maniac/playing with gourds.

The signing itself went well. I sold 11 books off the table and several people that came in had already bought books. In all I'd say I signed between 25-30 books. My voice held out for a reading and some people pleasantly surprised me by having had already read the book! One or two also commented on the newspaper article, so all was not lost on that.
Most of my RSVP's didn't show up, which wasn't much of a surprise since A) they were mostly on Facebook and B) 1/3 of the RSVP's to my wedding a few years ago didn't show so I was prepared. People get sick, things come up, and some people may have just not planned to come anyway. So my best advice is to plan for the RSVP'd people but don't be too sad if they don't show up.
Also, after some postings on Facebook I got some requests from both friends and through my email to order a book after the signing, so don't think that you won't sell after the signing's over.

I will definitely want to promote more beforehand for my next book, in more creative ways and at more places. I was happy with the turnout especially as busy as I have been and that I did not promote as much as I could.

The experience cemented the fact that I will have to build on events and get creative with promotions. Also that it takes more than gourds and I'm lucky to have a great support system of family, friends and readers.

I am starting out small but mighty, and I can't wait for the next step.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Unenthusiasm for my book runneth under

One of the first people to buy my print book "19 Years 10 Months 24 Days" after I got my first shipment was my mom-in-law. She texted me that she could stop at the library when I was at work there and buy it quick. I said, sounds good. The next day, mom-in-law comes in. "Hi," I say, "How are you?" "Great," she says. "I'm here to buy your book!" "Oh!" I say, "I totally forgot it!"

When I was a Freshmen in college, I'd always imagined this epic elation I would feel about having a book out. I'd tell everybody and it would be so amazing and wonderful and I'd skip through fields of Literary Poppies.

And now I just forget about it when I actually have someone willing to give me real money for my book?

I did get her a copy, but the completely un-Authorly Behavior on my part continued.

A day or two later I set up a facebook event for my book signing and invited some people. At work at the grocery the next day one of my co-workers asked me, "Oh hey, whose book is that you're promoting?" So, I told her it was mine. No one at work knew I'd published my book. They were all surprised and excited, but I felt kind of weird about the attention. I'd brought some book cards and book signing invites to put in the break room, but I ended up not leaving them there.

Then yesterday a friend came through my grocery line and was all, "Tell me about your book!" I told him about it, YA Underground Railroad time-travel. I then said to look for my next book, a zombie book, I planned to publish in a few months. He kind of laughed and said I didn't seem very excited about this book if I was already trying to promote the second one.

Even before all this has happened, and when my book became available, my first move was to write this blog post, "Don't buy my book, unless you want to."

So, what's the deal? Am I really that ashamed of my book that I'm not posting a million status updates about it or plastering posters all over town?

For the most part it's because I've been too busy with my pen name Matilda's first book that I plan to publish in February/March. Now that I know how this whole publishing thing works the way I want it to for my goals, it's on and I've been working non-stop on this other book. I'm in a whole different mindset. But, there is more to it than just that.

I wrote 19 Years to learn how to write a novel. I published it to learn how to publish. I think there are some painfully obvious literary devices I learned in school in it (parallel characters, I got those), the history is a tad romanticized (though I tried to be historically accurate), and the beginning relies heavily on my own experiences (it isn't until the main character Sophie starts jumping back in time that the tone turns from memoir-ish to fiction).

I knew all these things and I published it anyway because I still think it's a good story and one that is well put together. Things like structure and character development were important to me in the book and I spent time with these things. But honestly, I didn't go into publishing the book really expecting to promote it right away or for it to even have better sales than the other books I have lined up. I know the regular patrons at the library are interested in local history so a book about the Underground Railroad in Nebraska works for them, and I've gotten a nice reception there. However, the majority of my friends and peer authors are more in the blood/action/guts/horror/kick-ass protag category. So, I'm not spending much time promoting my super-PC time travel book to them. You can't market to everyone.

Now, if someone in the blood/action camp wants to look into 19 Years, that's great. I'm not saying that I think all readers are trapped into the box of genre and can't enjoy a book they wouldn't typically read. I'm just not spending much time promoting it to them. And right now, I'm groovy with that, even if I've sold less than 30 books.

My plan is to write a majority of my books under Matilda Loveshack (and yes, I will write about why I chose that name), mainly because they all fit into a horror/supernatural category with naughty words. Under my AJ name I plan to write more non-fiction, and explore writing about disability and maybe try to get some of the articles on literary criticism I've written into academic type journals. But I will keep the naughty words down when I write under AJ. Lastly I have some romance/erotica storylines that I plan to begin a third pen name for.

All this may seem very complicated and annoying. And on paper (or screen), it kind of is. For all my plotlines I have put together "project folders" − a folder containing a rough outline, some written scenes and potential character profiles stuck together with the working title taped to the front. AJ has two, Matilda has seven and my romance name has three. And each has some short stories I've assigned them to publish for free as short story ebooks.

My goal is to have books in many "genres" out so when I go to events (flea markets more likely, let's not lie) I can have all my pen names out and readers that want romance, or historical fiction, or zombies can have their picks. Then as I build, I will promote in line with what the pen name is all about rather than individual books. Of course I'll always have to promote individual books, but I see them more as building blocks right now, and my energy is going into constructing the books as they will work together under the pen name.

Will my grand plan work out like the fortress I have in mind or be more like an unstable, lopsided sandcastle? Who knows. But I do know it works for me, and the pen names have given me focus with my work, and a sense of purpose and organization.

19 Years means a lot to me. When I'm feeling down or lost or trapped I pull out the first handwritten draft in the huge three-ring binder that has snippets I wrote in high school. And it makes me feel better. It is worth something to me. Writing and publishing the book is a huge first step and one that I'm very proud of. But no, I don't carry my business card/book card in my pocket to hand out to whoever might come through my grocery line. I may be a little reserved when explaining my YA Underground Railroad story to certain people. It doesn't mean I think it's bad and I'm not confident or that I don't want to "make it" as an author. I just see the book as having its own place. All my books will have their own place, and I will do them the best by knowing where that place is.

But seriously, stay tuned for the zombie book. It is made of awesome.

Post Script: I wrote this then had to run to work at the grocery. I hadn't been there five minutes when someone brought up my book and a couple people wanted more info. Luckily I had exhibited some Authorly Behavior and stuck a few of my book rack cards in my glove box so I had some to give out. I even acted (gasp!) excited. It kind of woke me up to the importance of at least having my business card on me, or the book, should the topic arise. There is hope for me yet!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Proof myths debunked

With the publishing of my first full-length novel, "19 Years 10 Months 24 Days," I learned a lot about publishing that had up to that point been much theorizing and philosophy. One of the most interesting discoveries was the function of a proof in the publishing process. Here are a few misconceptions that I had. I shall call them myths, and debunk them accordingly.

I used createspace in a DIY fashion, formatting the ebook and directing the cover with my own photo and online tools. When I got the proof in the mail, it was very groovy and pretty much "that" experience that an author has. However, I had to run off to work, so I left the proof to look at later. I closed that night, and I got home an hour and a half later than usual, so I was dead tired. I ate some food and went to bed with my flashlight to read under the covers (so as not to wake the spouse unit) and wind down, as usual. For the fun of it, I decided to go ahead and read my proof, not expecting to edit, just to read. I got five sentences in and realized that reading in bed was a much, much different experience than going over my manuscript poised at my desk with a cup full of something caffeinated. Which brings me to…

Myth #1 − A digital proof is just as good as a physical one.

Now this is only a partial myth as the online and digital proofs generated on createspace were, in my opinion, very good. There was nothing in the physical proof that was not shown in the digital/PDF proofs. If you understand the PDF and digital layouts, you can make all the changes needed to have a well-formatted proof. I would have no problem approving a book for distribution after only seeing the digital proofs, if I had to.

The reading experience, however, was very different in print. I was amazed at how many things I caught that I had not found in my digital editing. I had even read the manuscript backward, five pages at a time to try to isolate emotional ties and dissect the passages from the holistic view that made me skip over words. Even more, things that I had left in intentionally trying to be artsy and descriptive did not work in my brain at midnight in bed with my flashlight. It took seeing a print version to realize many changes to make the book more reader friendly. It's very psychological. It soon became clear that there would be more than one proof to be ordered. Which debunks…

Myth #2 − Your proof is so close to done that it’s just kind of a formality/fun thing for an author to have.

I thought that I would order my proof, fix a few things here and there, and be ready to distribute in a week.

Three months later…

The first proof ended up having edits on almost every page. Having the physical proof gave me a whole new perspective, and one I really needed. I think some authors are so excited to be at the final stages of publishing that they get their proof looking to not find things to change instead of seeing the proof as a stage in the editing process. From this experience I will be ordering a physical proof earlier in the process to use specifically for editing, just because it helped me so much. I know all authors are different and with the rise of ebooks, some authors may have a better eye for screen-editing, but it's good for me to know that the print proof makes a big difference. But if you want my advice, print or screen, don't ever say "Oh, it's okay, I'll leave it" when going over your proof. Your proof is the chance to make changes before there's a copy in the library or people have bought it and you are confessing that there were too many mistakes and you will be uploading a newer version. And yeah, if I order a proof earlier, it will mean ordering more proofs. At CS, to print my book was $3.68 and another $4.00 or so to ship. To me, $7.00 a proof is worth what it allows me to do, editing-wise. And with the DIY capabilities with CS, the only costs I had directly with publishing the book were proofs. Around $21.00 when it was done. Another bit of advice: it will take more than one proof, but, don't fall prey to…

Myth #3 − It doesn’t matter how many times you go over it, you will always want to keep changing things in an endless spiral of doom.

As a writer, I've heard a million times, "Oh, I could never write a book, I'd never be happy with it and just need to keep changing it!" That's great, but my personal experience was, it did shape up the way I wanted it. The first proof was a disaster, but the second proof was much better. The third was even better and I was happy with where it was at. At that point, I took advantage of the digital proofs and formatting the ebooks for my final edits and then approved the proof for distribution. Changes and edits are good, but don't let some artistic cliché like that statement interfere with the process, because if you believe you will never be happy with it, you'll be more likely to skip over changes that do need to be made.

I'm gearing into the editing phase on Matilda's first print book, and I'm eager to put my new knowledge to the test and learn some more. Any other experiences out there with the wonderful, beguiling proof? Share in the comments!