Category Archives: Kim May

Kim May

Tricks of the Tradeshow

A lot of authors and publishing insiders talk about the importance of going to conventions — which is great. It’s a wonderful place to meet agents, editors, to sell your books directly to fans, and a lot of other great things. However, there’s another resource that tends to get overlooked. Tradeshows.

Tradeshows aren’t just for air-conditioner salesmen in bad suits, and overpriced cars and speed boats. There are multiple shows across the country throughout the year for the book business too. Except instead of it being a show for salesmen or the average reader, these shows are just for bookstore owners, event coordinators, book buyers, and librarians — the very people you need to know to make sure your book gets on the shelves.

These shows range in size. The biggest is the BEA (Book Expo America) but giant shows are pretty much out of reach of indies and hybrid authors like myself. So I’m going to focus on the smaller regional shows like the PNBA (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) fall tradeshow.

As you can imagine, in the Pacific Northwest there are a lot of indie bookstores and libraries, which is why this is such a great show. It’s usually two or three days in early October. The night before the show opens there’s a mixer for the attendees that’s also a massive book signing. There’s usually between fifteen to twenty authors and the books being promoted run the full gambit. There’s cookbooks, photography books, outdoor guides, YA, kids picture books, middle-grade novels, adult novels…pretty much everything. During the actual show there’s classes for the booksellers and librarians, and a sales floor for publishers and sidelines vendors, but the big attraction are the meals. During the show there’s an author breakfast, author lunch, and author dinner. At each of these meals there’s between five to eight authors and each one gets about fifteen minutes to talk about their new release while the booksellers and librarians eat a catered meal. At the end of the meal all of the booksellers and librarians get a gift bag with the books that were plugged — which is the show’s real draw.

This is the sort of show that attendees don’t fly to, they drive cross-country to it so they can fill their car with all the free books. If you think your Worldcon haul from the free table was impressive just wait till you see what is given away at book tradeshows. The last one I went to I was only able to be there one day because we were short handed at the shop, but just in that one day I came home with three large cloth shopping bags (the bags themselves were gifts from the publishers) full of ARCs (advance reader copies) and first editions! If I’d stayed through the rest of the show the book haul would have been three times that!

Herein lies the tricky part. For the regional shows like this there is an application process for indie authors to come promo their books, either at the big meals or as a vendor on the sales floor, but you can’t sell your newest book to the attendees. You have to give them away. All of the attendees come with the expectation that all of the books are free and anytime the booth staff say otherwise, it’s met with sneers. I realize that this means these shows are out of the realm of possibility for a lot of indie authors. I can’t afford to give away 500+ copies of my book. But if you can afford it, and your pitch is on point, you can make back that investment. You’re pitching directly to people who will stock, and hand sell, and promote your book to readers that may not hear about you and your work any other way.

So when you’re planning what conventions you’re going to go to, be sure to ask yourself if it’s better to spend $1,000 on hotel, airfare, and a badge for a big convention, or if it’s better to spend that on an appearance at a regional tradeshow.

Speaking of books, there’s a fantastic deal going on at StoryBundle. Their annual Epic Fantasy Bundle is currently available and this year’s selection has some great titles by R.A. Salvatore, Brandon Sanderson, Michael Stackpole, and three Fictorians! Gregory Little, Scott Eder, and myself all have novels in this bundle.

 

For $5.00 you get four DRM-free ebooks and for $15.00 you get all fifteen books! That’s a dollar a book! Plus, at checkout you have the option of donating 10% of your money to The Challenger Foundation, which helps fund science programs in schools across the country. Yay science! It’s only available until September 21st! You can buy it and even find out more about each of these titles here. You don’t want to miss out on this deal. It’s a lot of quality fiction for a small price!

I’m Sorry, I’ve Thrown Off My Groove

Maintaining momentum on your work in progress can be difficult and it’s never more difficult when your own brain gets in the way. All those little doubts that make you question if the scene is any good or if you should throw that outlined plot twist out the window in favor of the new cool idea you just thought of. The indecision is enough to give you that deer in the headlights look, unsure which chattering shoulder angel to listen to.

Do I have the hero kill the villain or do I have them go out for shawarma?

It’s questions and doubts like these that almost always bring my word stampede to a screeching halt. It took me years to figure out that the source of this wasn’t inexperience. It was me. It was my own self-doubt, a.k.a. impostor syndrome, a.k.a. I’m getting in my own way……again.

Now I’ve talked before about WTFS (Write the F-ing Sentence) and while that’s similar, it’s not the same thing. This is more than questioning if their coat should be azure or cerulean. It’s deciding whether or not the romance between two characters that your writer brain suddenly wants to add is going to be a good addition or a distraction from the main plot. It’s deciding if spending the next four pages exploring a character’s backstory is necessary or if it’s better to use that space for a secondary character’s nervous breakdown. The stakes are much higher with these sort of quandaries and it’s that pressure that stops progress. If it were as simple as choosing a hair color then it would be a bad habit that’s easily fixed. However since the root of the problem is a lack of self-trust rather than indecision it’s a lot harder. The only solution I’ve found is a three step process.

  1. Relax. Take a walk or a short breather to let the mental tension and anxiety melt away. The right words will come easier when you’re relaxed.
  2. Take a deep breath and go with the impulse. There’s a reason your subconscious suggested it in the first place. There’s no harm in trusting it…for now.
  3. Re-evulate. After the manuscript is finished, go back and re-read that section. If you hate it you can rewrite that section. Most of the time, when I’ve trusted my subconscious, I’ve really liked the resulting scene(s). But if I ever dislike a spontaneous scene I still won’t regret writing it because I didn’t let indecision stop me from completing the story.

I admit, the first time I tried these steps it felt like I was taking a huge leap of faith. And in some respects I was. But it was only through this that I was able to learn to trust my subconscious and not panic because a chipmunk suddenly wanted me to tell its life story. You’ll never know if the chipmunk’s story will provide the answers you need for later conflicts if you don’t allow it to speak in the first place.

When Your Setting is a Wild Card

Normally when you establish a setting in a story you only have to do it once. Unless some cataclysmic event happens, it’s not going to change enough to require another description. Huzzah! But what if your setting isn’t a clearly defined place? What if it’s more…well, this.

 

Okay, so your setting might not be the Dark Dimension but it may be like The Demos Oneiroi I created for The Moonflower in that it’s less of a landscape and more of an abstract concept given physical form. The Demos Oneiroi is the dream world of the Ancient Greek gods and since it’s quite literally the stuff of dreams it can be anything and everything all at once. A place like this, one that can change on a whim, can be hard to explain. Describing it with enough detail to get the point across without overwhelming the reader is a very tricky thing to do. It’s like doing a paint by number except all the numbers are imaginary.

The way I handled it is to treat the setting like an unreliable narrator. I established early on that the setting can and does change on a whim and that it’s perfectly normal for the abnormal to happen. If a lush forested park suddenly turns into zombie Jimmy Hoffa’s waterpark from hell, it’s all good. The reader doesn’t have to panic or re-read the previous page to figure out if they missed something. They can roll with it and get in the line for the giant octopus tentacle slide.

I hope I didn’t lose anyone there. I realize saying “do this tricky thing by treating it like another tricky thing” is not the best explanation; especially if you don’t know how to create an unreliable narrator. Don’t worry. I’m not going to leave you perplexed. It’s not quite as scary as it sounds and I promise, you don’t need to make a bargain with an otherworldly being to do this.

Dormammu, I’ve come to establish setting.

Since I keep throwing Doctor Strange references into this let’s use that film as a starting point. (Spoiler alert.)

In this acid trip on film we see multiple worlds, not all of which obey the same laws of physics that ours does. Besides blowing Stephen’s mind, it’s also establishing in the minds of the audience that there are many strange place the story can take us. So when Stephen does go to the Dark Dimension at the end of the film, we’re not shocked by it — especially since we’ve already seen weirder locations.

How do you create that on the page? In order to write an abstract setting you have to approach it in pretty much the same way that they did in the film. Start out by describing the setting as it is in that moment to create a base line. Then either through dialogue or a bit of exposition establish that things in this place aren’t necessarily what they appear to be, and that they won’t stay as they are now for long. It’s important to let the reader know that it’s gonna get a bit weird so they aren’t taken by surprise. A shock like that will knock them out of the story before you get to the really good stuff. After you’ve prepped them for the coming shift that’s when you can make the unexpected appear. How you do that, you may ask? Well that’s up to you. My favorite way is to have an inexperienced character encounter a shift in the landscape while accompanied by a more experienced character. The experienced character displays their knowledge and saves/helps the less experienced through until they’re back at a safe spot. This way I get to let my landscape live up to its potential while advancing the less experienced character’s development. Later in the story I can have them on their own, facing the same dangers — or worse — in that same landscape and it’s more plausible that they’ll survive.

It’s okay if it takes a few revisions to really get it to work well. It is a tricky thing but the freedom it gives you to create and be original makes it a lot of fun. Plus, a setting like this never gets boring. Bonus!

Starting Your Own Publishing Company

One of the wonderful things about indie publishing is that you don’t have to publish under a vanity press name or any other publishing service name. You can publish under your own company’s name. For some indie writers it’s not that big a deal and that’s okay. However, for people like me who have been entrenched in the sales side of the industry (almost two decades for me) it’s a sign of professionalism. The second booksellers see a vanity press or publishing service name we automatically regard the book as amateurish. (A small press that we’ve never heard of will always be in higher esteem than a vanity press.) Having your own house name is one of those little details that can make stores take you more seriously.

I usually don’t include disclaimer in my posts but in this particular instance I feel it’s necessary because I am not a lawyer or a business consultant. Besides, this isn’t a how to start your own company post. There are great posts from independent business organizations that explain it better than I can. I’m just sharing my own experience from starting my own publishing company. There are a lot of things that took me by surprise that I wish I’d been better prepared for.

Here’s a list of things that I learned along the way that might help ease the way for you:

  1. Take the time to check local and national databases of registered business names. There’s nothing more embarrassing then picking a name that’s already taken. Yes, it’s extremely tedious and the print on the website is tiny. You still need to do it. Once you’re sure your name is unique register it in your state right away to stake your claim. Registering it nationally is a good idea too. Yes, there’s a registration fee (one for state and another for national) so be prepared for that.
  2. When deciding whether to register your company as a DBA (doing business as)/ sole proprietorship or to go ahead and file as a LLC don’t think you’re selling yourself short by wanting to do the former. If you feel a DBA is right for your business at this point in time, that’s fine. If circumstances change later and you need the extra legal protection a LLC provides you can upgrade your business.
  3. Decide now if you want to take on authors other than yourself (along with the expense and bookkeeping that goes with it). It doesn’t matter if you have a website or not. The second an aspiring author, or the mother of an aspiring author, finds out you’re a publisher you will get asked that question. It’s not a matter of if you’ll be asked, it really is a matter of when. Knowing the answer ahead of time will help you maintain a certain level of professionalism.
  4. Know how copyright works as well as how and when to file for it. You’re the publisher so there won’t be anyone to do it for you. It’s a good idea for authors to know how that works regardless but it’s doubly important when you have your own publishing company.
  5. Speaking of you having to do everything, you’re also financing everything so it’s a good idea to sit down and figure out a budget or even write a full financial plan for your start up — not just for the company but for the first title you’ll publish too. How much will it cost to: register your business, get a website, buy ISBNs and barcodes, get cover art, hire an editor to go over the manuscript, purchase publishing software, etc. If you need a few more months to save up day job income to buy ISBN numbers then maybe you should push out that publication date to give you the time you need. It’s also a good idea to figure in a buffer for unexpected last minute expenses.
  6. Terms of service and other user agreements are the bane of modern existence. That being said you really do need to read every item and subheading so you understand what the sites you’re selling your book(s) on expect of you. If they say that they’ll close your account and take down your titles if you break the agreement, they mean it. With that in mind I recommend giving yourself twice as much time to read them then you think you’ll need because trust me, you’re going to want to take a break on some of them. I also recommend that you don’t do more than one a day. They kinda blend together if you try to do all of them in quick succession.
  7. Keep receipts for everything! All of the expenses for the start up as well as the publishing costs are tax deductible.
  8. Don’t forget that you’re still a writer. The business side can easily take over your life. Make sure you’re still spending time writing the next release. With that in mind, my last bit of advice is…
  9. Be realistic. Don’t be afraid to farm out some less desirable tasks to someone else. I’m not saying that you have to take on an employee but you can take advantage of certain services that online retailers provide. I don’t have the storage space let alone the time and energy to fulfill book orders or process returns myself. But for a small percentage of the profits one of retailers I sell through will do that for me. I also have an accountant to handle my taxes. Being free of the headache and hassle so I have more time to write makes it a worthwhile expense.