Category Archives: Jo Schneider

Back-Up FTW

 

Cons are an interesting phenomenon. The vendor area is made up of too-skinny aisles that somehow funnel thousands of nerds through them on an hourly basis. Rows and rows of six foot tables or ten foot square booths line the sides, each with their own unique wares-art, crafts, scrolls, swords, costumes, novels- to draw the masses toward them. Sometime in the middle of day two the smell sets in, and then on day three it goes away, because you’ve become part of it. The vendor hall is noisy and claustrophobic, and getting people’s attention with books is often a challenge.

I live near Salt Lake City, and have done the Salt Lake Comic Con half a dozen times as an author. I started out sharing a table or a booth with other authors. Sometimes sponsored, sometimes not. The out of pocket cost wasn’t much when we were sponsored, so making my money back wasn’t a big deal. I was there to have fun and meet potential readers.

I remember one year, there was a couple sitting across from the four-author-table I was a part of. It was just the two of them. They looked fresh and excited, surrounded by piles and piles of what had to be his first published work. The one sign they had said that the book was $20.

Just a note: most readers don’t go to a con to pay MORE for a book than they would on Amazon.

The guys at my table and myself tried to be friendly. Talk to our neighbors. Greet people going by. Ask them what they like to read. Offer them a free bookmark. It’s simple but it helps draw people over to the table. One of our guys would even grab a copy of his book, turn it around and hand it to people to read. This also helped sales.

The couple across the way started out smiling, but after an hour or so, with only a few people stopping and none stayed to talk, the smiles waned, and the looks of desperation began. The wild eyes, searching the passing crowd, looking for anyone who glanced their way. Or even mostly glanced their way.

I don’t think I saw more than three or four people that stopped all day.

The next day, the price for the book had been lowered to $15. Better. Not great, but better. However, it didn’t help. While we plugged along, selling a book or so an hour, they got more and more desperate. I saw them with their heads together, talking. They started to send nasty looks into the passing crowd, as if the people were to blame for their lack of success.

By the end of day two, they walked away with their shoulders slumped and their eyes down. The next morning the price of the book was $10. Halfway through the day it went to $7. Then, during the last hour, 2 for $5.

I’m not sure they sold a single book. The four authors at our table probably totaled 45 books. So not great, but since someone had sponsored us, it wasn’t a big loss for any of us.

I’ve never seen that couple come back. And who can blame them? They had a horrible experience.

But what made it a horrible experience?

Let me tell you, after four or five times sharing space, how I did the first time I went on my own. I got a six foot table and paid extra to be on the main walkway as well as on a corner. The corner was for ease of getting in and out more than anything else, because on a table you don’t get an end cap or anything.

By this point I knew I was horrible at pimping my own books, so I called for backup. My sister-in-law is a huge fan of my books, as well as a huge geek. So is my brother-in-law. So I got them vendor badges (generally less expensive than the regular passes) and they agreed to help me sell books. They aren’t afraid to talk to people, and they didn’t hesitate to chat with anyone who walked by. They would ask people if they liked to read and if so what. At that point they would grab one of my books that resonated with what the victim-potential reader-had said and tell them about it.

I brought 150 books with me and we sold 125 of them. Not the greatest showing ever at a con, but much better than I’d ever done before. And basically, I sat behind the table, looked pretty and signed books. I tried my hand at drawing people over, and got better at it, but my minions did most of the work. I made a tidy profit, and that was that.

A few weeks later, I took them to a nice dinner and we talked about selling even more books the next time.

I’ve learned that you get out of a conference what you put into it. If you’re willing to get out there and sell your books, then you will sell a lot more books than if you simply sit behind your table and watch the crowds go by. Maybe your covers or your posters or your decorations will draw people over. Or maybe enough people know your name to drop by, but until then, be prepared to work your butt off. And if people aren’t responding to you, bring in back up. Bribe them. It’s worth it.

Ups and Downs and How to Use Them

Picture this: (Because I saw it on Facebook a few days ago, and now can’t find it.)

Two short, wooden tracks for marbles. One starts high and flattens out, the other looks like a roller coaster with up and down bumps spaced perfectly apart. A marble is released at the beginning of each track. The first performs as predicted, the marble rolls down and to the end, losing momentum as it goes. The second surprises me. The marble goes down, hits the bottom of the hill and goes back up. Once up, it thunders back down, only to go up again. While it loses some momentum going up, the down hills keep it going. And, it makes it to the end before marble #1.

I feel like this is the perfect analogy for the momentum of my own creativity.

I always start out excited, barreling down the hill with all of the purpose in the world with the wind whipping through my hair and sunshine on my face. This can go on for a day or a week or a month, but eventually, the “something” occurs. It can be plot problems, it can be life problems, it can be family problems, it can be day job problems…the list goes on and on.

At this point I have to dig in. My momentum has waned, and the only thing to do is pull out the good old hard work. Sometimes it takes wading through plot problems for a week before I can get going again. Sometimes it takes ignoring the book for a while. Sometimes it takes forcing myself to sit in my office chair and write for an hour, even if it is total crap. Sometimes it takes doing every chore in the house so I don’t have an excuse to mess around anymore. Sometimes it takes all four and then some.

During this I usually feel things getting easier again. I crest the top of the hill, panting because going uphill is hard, and stupid, and look around. Before me I see my path and I am once again excited. I step off and it all starts over.

Back to my analogy. Not only does the roller coaster marble end up with more momentum, it actually goes farther than the other one. And, it gets there faster.

So if you’re feeling a little bi-polar about your creative process, remember that not everyone is the same, and maybe you’re a roller coaster creator, like me. Or maybe the long, slow burn process is your game. Either way, figure out how your process works and then figure out how you can make it work for you.

Google Can Take You Anywhere

A few years ago I heard a successful author say that you should have unique setting for most of your novel. Don’t use the same setting too much, especially in a fantasy or sci-fi story where you want to create a continuous sense of wonder for the reader.

As I wrote the first novel I wanted to publish, I took this to heart. Each time I had a new scene, it would be in a different place. It worked for the story, because the characters were on the run much of the time.

The story, New Sight, takes place in the western United States in modern times. Easy for setting, because I didn’t have to make up a bunch of world building rules and such. I remember pulling up Google Maps and charting where I wanted my characters to go. I needed a place of some mystical value, and I Googled that as well. When I had a basic roadmap, I started looking for interesting things in or near the places I wanted to use.

I found a hotel in Colorado that is an old drive-in movie theater. They’ve built it so that you can watch a movie through a huge window in your room while you’re lounging on your bed. I used this in one version of my story, but it didn’t make the final cut. Still, I may use it later for something else. Curiosity piqued? Check it out here.

I found out that Las Vegas has a hidden society of poor people living in the storm drains under the city. Yes please, totally used this. Sort of. Here is the article that my sister sent me after we’d been talking about it.

I found out that a little-known hike in Canyonlands leads to a place called Druid Arch. Some people think it is of mystical importance. Score!

That’s just a few examples. I’d been to Las Vegas, and didn’t end up using the hotel, but I wanted to go to Druid Arch. It took me a few months of getting into better shape, and one failed attempt due to stupid snow in April, but I finally got there.

I’d searched for info on the hike, and had found pictures and descriptions of it. Which gave me a good idea of what to expect. I dragged a few friends along with me. We only got lost once or twice for a few minutes, but in the end made it.

It was so fun seeing the place for myself. Feeling it. Smelling it. Hearing it. I added a few new details to the scenes I’d written there before my final manuscript went out. And, after I got my rights back from my original publisher, I used my own photos on the new cover. With help from an actual artist, of course.

It’s not always practical to visit the places you use in your stories, but at least take the time to Google them. You’ll be amazed at what you find from interesting landmarks to urban legends to people in the sewers.

Mis-Adventures with a Small Press

I started my writing career with the glassy eyed hope of being traditionally published by a New York Publishing House. My books would be in book stores (this was a while ago, back when Borders was still in business and Barnes and Noble was going strong), people would line up out the door for my signings, I’d have options for movies and I’d get fan mail asking when my next book would be out. Or death threats for killing a character.

Well, it’s pretty hard to break into that world, which I found out the slow and painful way. I decided I would write a book with the purpose of getting it published. A year later it was “ready.” I queried every agent I’d ever met, and some I hadn’t. I did my research and sent my manuscript off to about forty agents and a couple of publishers that took open submissions. Then I waited.

I knew it was a good story, but I didn’t realize that it wasn’t up to snuff for major publishing. After about six months of rejections, I was with my writing group and one of them had heard of a new press in our area. They were small, but after some quick research I felt that they would be innovative enough to keep up with the quickly changing publishing world. Almost on a whim, I submitted the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel. And waited again.

A couple of months after that, I met this publisher at a conference. They were all really young, and I was a little afraid, but they remembered my story and asked for the rest of it. I obliged. A couple of weeks later, I had a publishing contract with them. I was on cloud nine!

Then, of course, reality set in. The original publishing date for my manuscript got pushed back not once, but twice. It only took me forty-five minutes to go through the “heavy editing” pass for my book. Trust me, it wasn’t that good. I never got a finalized copy edit from the publisher, and never received an e-copy of my book.

The biggest surprise was how much marketing they expected me to do. The only real direction I got was to be on as many social media platforms as possible and become the queen of them. Interact. Reach out. Be cool. Which isn’t terrible advice, but social media is not my forte. Which left me stressing about getting 30+ Tweets out a week and as many comments on other people’s stuff along with Facebook. And whatever else I could get involved in.

The only marketing my small press did for me was setting up book signings around my home, which was nice, and providing bookmarks and ARC copies of my book. After that, I was totally on my own. A rock tossed into a lake that had one trajectory—down.

I did see my book in Barnes and Noble (Sorry the picture is fuzzy, but my book is there), which was awesome. What wasn’t awesome was that they put it in the adult fantasy section. Right next to Brandon Sanderson. Hello, I write YA, not adult stuff. Brandon Sanderson readers would likely not dig my book. Which is fine, they’re not my audience. I talked to every B&N I went to and finally found out that the B&N hierarchy had somehow put my book into the category they thought it “Fit best” in. Uh, no. Nothing I did could change their minds. Which was frustrating.

Paralleling my experience with a small press, I had a friend who went Indie. She was building an audience and having a great deal of success as she figured out how to utilize Amazon to do her bidding.

One day I sat in a room full of authors doing book signings. Brandon Sanderson was in one corner, with his line out the door. Next to me sat a woman who had made six figures the year before Indie publishing. Not going to lie, I checked out her books and they weren’t that great, but they were in the “all the rage” category at the time. My brain went into action.

I had a long conversation with myself about what I really wanted. Did I want that line, or did I want to make money? Which you can do with a New York Press, but it’s very difficult with a small press. It’s not picnic with a large press either, especially since more and more of the marketing responsibility is being laid at the author’s feet. And without control over your categories and price point on-line it makes marketing more difficult.

After my book had basically tanked after two months, and my small press said they wouldn’t publish the second one unless I somehow sold a bunch of copies of the first, I decided to get out. I’d put a clause in my contract that they only had 60 days for their first rights of refusal. They went beyond that, and I got out. No fuss. No hard feelings. It just didn’t work out for me.

As I look back, I see that this small press wasn’t prepared for their own ambitious publishing schedule. Almost everyone there were interns (not actually paid) so you never knew if you were getting a good edit or even good advice. No one was trying to screw anyone else, but a company can only break so many promises before things go south.

Was it worth it to see my book in a bookstore? Yes. Would I do it again? Not sure. I needed that experience. It was my dream, and it came true. But like so many dreams, it wasn’t quite what I had pictured.