Monday, November 29, 2010

Lessons Learned at MBFI

As you know, my publishing team and I traveled over to the Miami Book Fair International a couple weekends ago. It was a long three days, after which we were completely exhausted. We didn't sell a ton of books, but we did sell some to people who may have otherwise never heard of Promise or Kristie Cook. And we had fun and learned quite a bit, too.

So here's what I learned, from an author's perspective to other writers:

Big is not always great. - MBFI touts that approximately 500,000 people walk the street fair. It's also nearly 30 years running. Size and tradition doesn't necessarily mean organization and success, though. We ran into a few snafus getting started, didn't particularly love the location our booth was given and were missing our booth sign for half of the first day. The organizers seemed to have their plates way over-full. We decided to do this particular fair because of the crowds it draws. Unfortunately, it was a smaller crowd this year compared to usual and not exactly our target market (see below). My new writer-friend, Tracy Darity, who shared our booth with us, said she goes to many fairs and festivals in Florida - not just book fairs - and has had a lot of success at the smaller ones. Especially when she is the only author or one of a small handful. So we'll be looking into smaller events to attend now.

Know who makes up the crowd. - The fair took place on the Miami-Dade Community College grounds. My books' primary target audience is 18 to 35-year-old women. A community college, with non-traditional students, seemed like a great idea. However, the majority of the visitors were not college students and the majority of them did not speak English as their first language. This created a bit of a language barrier for most of the people passing our booth. On the flip side, because this was not our usual geographic or demographic hang-out, online or offline, we were able to spread the word to a whole new segment of the audience. The buyers did not know each other or get recommendations from people they know. So Promise is now gaining hold in entirely new circles (we hope it's gaining hold, anyway!).

Bring lots of hand-outs. - We handed out hundreds of fliers, bookmarks and coupons. The coupons were never used (they expired already), but that doesn't mean people won't be buying later. We're hoping that even if the people we gave the literature to aren't interested, they'll know someone who is. Bookmarks are the best because there is more reason to hang onto those. Readers can always use bookmarks.

Don't be afraid to talk to people. - You never know who might be interested in your book and who you might meet. We met the parents of the owner of one of the biggest independently owned bookstore chains in the country. They were impressed with Promise's reviews (thank you, people!!!) and award and thought their son would be interested, too. Score!! I have the owner's phone number now and we will be getting in touch with him about doing signings.

Probably the most important thing I learned for all of you, especially if you're not yet published or worried about book fairs and trade shows:

The book itself is often your #1 sales tool. - You've heard it when querying agents or promoting your book. If you have a good book, it will sell. What helps? Having good jacket copy and pages for people to sample. A good percentage of the time, if we could get people to hold the book in their hands, read the back and, sometimes, a page or two inside, they bought. Many times, as soon as they read the last sentence of the jacket copy, they smiled, squirmed a little and said, "I want it!" If you're not yet published, if you're seeking representation, the "jacket copy" is pretty much what needs to be in your query letter. Write it strong, sell the story itself, and you'll get interest.

These are the major highlights of what we learned from the Miami Book Fair. But there is one other thing I'll be sharing on Wednesday, something else I learned that is totally not related to book promotions or sales, but completely to my writing and books: the color purple.

Questions about the fair and our experience? Please feel free to ask! Any experiences of your own? Please do share!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Putting a Face to the Name

Do you ever wish you could project the images of your characters in your head to paper? Not just cutting out models or actors that come close, but the exact image you have. Some of you, I know, are talented artists and can do just this. But not me. I can do graphic design with existing objects and fonts and manipulate pictures to an extent. I have absolutely no artistic talent, though.

There are several things in my books that are completely made up by me. I don't mean the story (or...besides the story, which is pretty obvious). I mean actual objects, animals and paranormal creatures. That's why I love writing fantasy - you can create new types of creatures, objects, magical spells, words and even worlds. But there are some I'd really love to see an actual picture of. Just to know what it would look like if it were real.

Well, I was blessed to have won a contest and the prize was a drawing of one of my characters by the extremely talented Elizabeth Mueller (she did a version of Tristan for the Halloween contest a couple weeks ago). For my prize, though, I had her draw a creature that I've been dying to know what it would really look like.

Here's what she came up with:

And go here to find out what it is.

Thanks, Elizabeth!!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Five for Friday

Next week is Thanksgiving! I love turkey day! I love having a reason to gather with family, cook and pig out until our bellies look like ticks. And I especially love that we get to do it all without the added pressure of shopping and gift giving. Of course, I love Christmas, too. It is my favorite holiday, but Thanksgiving is a very, very close second.

Since this is the last Friday before we gorge, here are 5 writing-relevant things I'm grateful for:

  1. The blessings of the stories that have been given to me.
  2. The talent to put those stories into words that people understand.
  3. The health and physical ability to record those words into a format others can read.
  4. The resources (like a computer!) to share those formats with those who want to read it.
  5. The people I've met along the way, from my alphas, betas and critters to other writers to book bloggers to fans, you are all a true blessing. Thank you for being my friend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Perfectionism or Procrastination?

So, the other day I was complaining about never being done, even when you think you are. Typos pop up out of nowhere. Words lose their italics or get italicized when they're not supposed to be. Someone bends over at the "waste", yeah, that happened, even after several rounds of revisions.

Then a funny thing happened. Not "haha" but more like, "a-ha." After I made that post, I added excerpts to the Purpose website. And because Word adds in all kinds of bogus HTML (if anyone can tell me how to avoid that, I'd love you forever!!), I had to go through the excerpts line-by-line to remove the unnecessary and cluttery tags.

As I'm doing that, a couple phrases pop out at me. And I'm suddenly thinking of a better way to say them. Not able to control myself, I make the changes. Then go back into the Word and PDF docs to make the changes there, too. Now I have an itch to go through the whole book to make sure there aren't other phrases that could be even better. Because I know there are.

I also went into Promise's excerpts and reformatted that page. And it happened again. I didn't make the changes, though. I wanted to. So very badly. But the book is published and I just need to keep it the way it is. It bugs the crap out of me, though. And this was my a-ha moment.

Actually, I've had this conversation with other writers, published and not, so it wasn't really an "a-ha" moment as it was a reminder. As writers, we (hopefully) are continuously growing, learning and improving our craft. We will always go back and look at something we wrote and have ideas to make it even better. A different word. A more compelling way to phrase something. Perhaps even a whole scene or chapter that could be removed or improved.

No matter how good we thought it was then, at a later time, we see how it can be even better. This will always be true. So at some point, we do have to call the work done. We have to move on to the next step, whatever it is for each of us. Because if we keep trying to make this one perfect, we'll never get to the next one. And who wants to work on the same story their entire life? Not me. I have too many others I need to get out of my head.

Do you find yourself nit-picking? Is it because the story really isn't ready? Or is it because you're being a perfectionist? Or perhaps because you're procrastinating, afraid of the next step (i.e., querying or the next blank page 1)?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just When You Think You're Done

As many of you are chugging away at NaNoWriMo, trying to get those 50,000 words out, I'm at the other end, wrapping up the very last round of proofing. I really don't think, if the timing would have been better, I would have had a problem with NaNoWriMo.

Rough drafts - or what I call brain-dump, word puke - come easy to me. The ideas and words come so fast, I can't keep up with them. The voices talk to me All. Day. Long. so by the time I get to write at night, I'm on a dead run, making every night a writing marathon.

The problem with my madness is that it requires seemingly endless revisions, editing, re-writing, more revisions, polishing, proofing... You get the idea. Although I do a little editing as I go along, the first draft is pretty much garbage. When I first started writing what is now Promise and Purpose, I actually became sad as I reached the end of a round of revisions. But then I would cheer myself up by remembering that I got to start all over. Yeah, I was kind of sick.

That was 34,613 revisions ago. I'm still sick. Sick of this damn book! Okay, just kidding. Sort of. I'm just ready to be done. Ready to move on to the next book. Ready to start real writing again. And I thought I was there. Purpose had been critted, reviewed, revised, edited, polished, proofed, formatted and sent to the printer for proofs and ARCs.

I knew it wasn't perfect, that it still needed a final proofing because those dang typos pop up when no one's looking, as if the letters play musical chairs while I sleep. I expected some fixes. By the time my proofers and I were done, I had this:

Yes, each of those pretty, colorful flags is a mistake. Seriously. And ARCs had already been sent out to reviewers. Ugh. How embarrassing! Thankfully, there's a disclaimer in the front stating that this book has not been proofed. But still...

So those fixes have been made, but there were so many, I needed the book proofed one more time. I'm waiting, holding my breath, for that final file to come back. Then hopefully I can really call this book done.

As you write your NaNoWriMo novel or whatever WIP you're working on, enjoy the journey. Because it's one that never ends. And if you want to trade places, give me a holler. I'm so ready to write again!