Category Archives: Kim May

Kim May

Space bars and Literary heroin

Two aliens walk into a bar and are completely baffled by the selection. There’s row after row of Terran libations, a fine selection of Neptunian beers, rums from Raxacoricofallapatorius, and an entire shelf devoted to Ionian moonshine. So many liquors, so little time.How could anyone choose from such a massive selection?

Walking into a bookstore is much the same. I’ve been an independant bookseller for sixteen years. Our customers are often so dazzled and intimidated by the literary labyrinth that they can’t remember what they came in for. Granted, that’s if they knew in the first place. (Seriously, if you want to piss off a bookseller, say “I can’t remember the title or the author but it has a blue cover and they talked about it on NPR two weeks ago.) Sometimes we’ll even get someone that hasn’t picked up a book in years. Even though there’s a lot of pressure to find the perfect series, because we’ve sampled, savored, devoured, and researched our wares we can satisfy any craving.

It’s in this capacity where we become an author’s best friend. Not because we’re selling vast quantities — we’re not — but the copies we do sell go to the people who will appreciate that work the most. Handselling may not seem like a sound business philosophy and if our goal was to only sell copies of that one perfect title, the naysayers would be right. However, we know that once they’ve read that one perfect title they’ll be back to buy the rest of the author’s works. It also establishes trust so when we recommend another author they’re a lot more likely to buy it.

So how does an author get the support of America’s indie booksellers? Well the first step is to write and publish the best stories you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s published traditionally or independently. If it’s not in print, a brick and mortar store can’t stock it. There are only a handful of stores dabbling in e-book sales (that I know of) so if you’re work is only available as an e-book you’ll be severely limited but don’t let that stop you.

A good pitch isn’t just for editors and agents. They work on booksellers too. So do free samples. Back in ’08 Devon Monk sent us a packet that contained a lovely letter explaining that she was a local author whose first novel was releasing soon. It also had a chap book with the first two or three chapters, a poster of the book cover, bookmarks, and hypercolor pens. You don’t have to go to the expense of ordering custom swag. The introduction letter and sample are enough to get our attention since most indie stores don’t get that kind of consideration from traditional publishers. That said, if you have cool swag, send it. It worked for Devon. The swag made us more eager to read the sample — which we loved. We’ve kept her work in stock ever since.

If you don’t want to produce a chap book and your publisher isn’t printing an ARC (advance reader copy, also known as a galley) you can print it like you would a submission, offer to e-mail it to the store, or if you’re tech savvy you can put it in a locked post on your website or blog and give the store the access code. You also don’t have to mail it. If the store is local, by all means give it to us in person. We like meeting authors. Especially when they’re polite and professional. (When you work with the public all day those two things go a long way.)

My final caveat is if the store has a staff member that specializes in your genre, make sure to get their attention. That person is your drug lord. Gain their favor and they will sell your literary heroin to every word addict in the city.

You may have noticed that I’ve emphasized giving a sample. While we love our job, we don’t get rich doing it. And since we’re also word addicts we have our favorite fixes to purchase and consume. That’s what you’re competing against and that’s why the sample is key. If we like your pitch, we’ll probably add you to the “I’ll read it someday” list. Hook us with your sample and suddenly you’re on the “I must buy this now!” list. Once you’re on that list and the rest will take care of itself.

If this method doesn’t work, don’t fret. Your work may not have been right for that store’s clientele but there are other stores where your work will be right at home. Keep trying. It’s a deductible expense and even if the store doesn’t add your titles to their next order they’ve at least heard your name and that counts for something.

Fishing for friends

A guest post by Kim May.

One of the most important skills a writer can develop has very little to do with writing. Nonetheless it can open doors into the professional realm that wouldn’t be accessible otherwise and can provide vital insight to the industry. So what is this pivotal skill?

Networking.

Since most writers tend to be introverts who loathe departing from their sanctum of creativity, this skill can be one of the hardest to develop. Be that as it may, it’s still important to know how because of the reasons I listed earlier. The old saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” is just as true in publishing as it is in other fields. Think of it this way, a fisherman doesn’t expect the fish to swim up on shore, walk on fin tip to the market, and place themselves on a bed of ice. They have to get in their boats, sail to where the fish are, and cast their nets.

So, who should you network with? Everyone. Whether you’re at a book signing, a seminar, a convention, or at church, everyone you meet is a potential reader. That doesn’t mean that you have to walk around with copies of your book(s) stuffed in your pocket but it does mean that you shouldn’t be shy about your involvement in the craft. If no one knows that you write, no one will anxiously await the release of your novel. Of course, the most valuable connections you can make are with those in the industry: editors, agents, bookstore events coordinators, and authors. But that doesn’t mean that you can afford to ignore the lady that shows up to every bookstore event or the man at the bus stop reading that book you love.

There isn’t a secret Jedi technique that you need to master in order to be good at networking. I find that the best way is to just say hello and start up a conversation. If you’re nice, and personable, chances are they’ll want to read your book. It won’t matter if you’re book is Wheel of Time erotica, and they’re a retired nun. If they like you enough they’ll read it anyway.

Don’t have a published work to promote? Promote yourself instead. It’s never too early to build an audience. When someone asks what do you do for a living or what have you been up to lately, tell them “I’ve been writing a book. It’s about (insert pitch here).” If they’re interested, give them a business card so they can follow your blog/website. That way they can run out and buy your book the second it’s available.

The one thing you don’t want to do is to go on and on about yourself for half an hour. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your experiences, and desires for your career. Where it becomes burdensome is when every turn in the conversation is directed by you, for you, so you can talk more about you. There’s a fine line between promotion and bragging and once you’ve crossed that line there is no going back.

Once you’ve made a good impression, don’t let it end there. Maintain that relationship. Say hi to them when you pass them on the street. If they invite you to an event, take them up on the offer because you don’t know who else might be there. I’ve lost count the number of industry folks I’ve met while at the movies or out to dinner with someone I met at a signing. If I hadn’t made that initial connection, I never would have met the people who have become an important part of my life.

So you see? It’s worth leaving your sanctum, and saying hello to a complete stranger. That person may be the agent who gets you your first sale, or the future admin of your fan page, or your biggest fan. But you will never find out if you don’t make the first move.

Guest Writer Bio:
Kim MayKim May writes sci-fi and fantasy but has been known to pen a gothic poem or two. She works at an independent bookstore and dog/house sits on the side. A native Oregonian, she lives with her geriatric cat, Spud, and spends as much of her free time as she can with family and friends. She recently won The Named Lands Poetry Contest. If you would like to find out what she’s working on, please visit her blog.

Fangs and Facelifts

A guest post by Kim May.

Dracula_1931To some the idea of changing a classic story may be sacrilege. However, there’s nothing wrong with giving a classic a good literary facelift. Take Dracula for instance. This ancient tale has had so many facelifts that it’s become the Joan Rivers of fiction. Really it is. Look at its journey: Eastern European myth and superstition -> Le Fanu’s Carmilla -> Polidori’s The Vampyre -> Bram Stoker’s Dracula -> hundreds of film and stage adaptations (including two musicals) -> NBC’s upcoming TV adaptation.

I could write a book discussing each version but for the sake of time I’ll limit myself to my two favorite film adaptations – The classic 1931 Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, and the 1979 Dracula, starring the very sexy Frank Langella. Both adaptations were based on Stoker’s novel and while they don’t follow the novel faithfully, they do have all the elements that we associate with the story of Dracula.

Most of the characters from the novel are present. After arriving in England, Dracula wastes no time moving into Carfax Abbey (AKA the Adams family summer home) and turns the damsel’s best friend into his first late night snack (vampires love fourth meal). Van Helsing outs the Count as a vampire, using traditional methods. With the help of the young hero, Van Helsing destroys Dracula’s first British vampire bride, formerly known as the damsel’s best friend (I believe this makes her second life shorter than Bree Tanner’s). Dracula then turns his attention to the damsel, later absconding with her. The hero and Van Helsing pursue and kill Dracula, saving the damsel and the world.

The heroes in both films also employ the traditional countermeasures for vampires – the crucifix, holy water, sacred ground, a wood stake, mirrors, garlic, and wolfsbane – and the trademark line “Children of the night. What (sad) music they make”.

One would think that with so many similarities the films would be almost identical. They’re not. The scriptwriter(s) put their own spin on the story, characters, and the vampire mythos.

For the most part the 1931 film doesn’t stray very far from Stoker’s story. It also portrays gender roles in a very traditional way. The women are demure and meek while the men are the ones who are truly in control. In today’s eyes that sounds terribly chauvinistic but you have to remember that the bra burning feminist movement was a few decades away and the writers primary goal for this film wasn’t to promote equality. It was to frighten the audience. While such stereotypes are a bit disturbing, only the most ardent of feminists would find it terrifying.

The base story is a bit terrifying to begin with because it preys on mankind’s instinctual fear of dangerous creatures that creep in the dark. However, since the previous film adaptation, Nosforatu, relied on that (with successful results) the writers upped the ante. They did this by giving the story a modern (1930s) setting. The actors wore the fashions of the day and many scenes have telephones, electric lamps, and battery operated flashlights in them. While this seems like a small change, it does make the story more relatable.

“What if?” is a powerful question. It increases the tension and gives the audience room to wonder if this was real. Could a vampire actually terrorize the city or turn Sally’s pet bunny into a sanguinarian? Was that rustling sound a leaf on the wind or a vampire sneaking up on them? The audience’s minds work against them and makes every scary moment more powerful.

Dracula_1979In contrast, the 1979 film is not designed to scare the audience, though they still made it relatable in another way. In the late 70s there were a higher percentage of college graduates than there were in the 30s so the modern setting trick wasn’t going to be as effective. The various popular re-tellings of Dracula, of which the 1931 film is one, made the public very familiar with the story. So with this in mind, the writers set out to make the vampire mythos logical. When it’s discovered that the crates Dracula shipped from home were filled with soil, his explanation that he has an interesting botany gives the characters reason to believe him to be a normal human rather than one of the undead. The audience still knows the truth of course, but none of the characters look like idiots for believing the lie.

Since the writers didn’t need a modern setting, they placed it at the beginning of the twentieth century – the same time period as Downton Abbey – so it would resonate with fans of the gothic romances that were popular in the 70s. What they updated instead, because the successful women’s rights movement, was the gender roles. The men are still very much in control of the world, but Lucy, our damsel, is an intelligent, assertive, and passionate woman. Despite the best efforts of the men around her, Lucy has no compunction telling them that she is not a victim and is the only one in control of her future.

Speaking of Lucy, her role in the tale is one of the biggest deviations from Stoker’s novel. He wrote Lucy as our fair damsel’s best friend and the first victim of Dracula. However, in this film the roles were flipped with Mina, the damsel, being the friend and victim and the new, improved Lucy being the Count’s love interest.

In keeping with the romantic theme, Dracula was portrayed as the lonely, tragic survivor instead of a monster. This transforms him into a sympathetic character. So instead of cheering Van Helsing and company, we cheer on Dracula and Lucy as they try to escape so they can live together in peace. It’s quite brilliant.

Both of these films successfully updated a classic without losing the charm or the appeal of the original. I’ll even go so far as to say they made the mythos richer as well. So you see, literary nip/tucks can be a good thing.

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Kim May writes sci-fi and fantasy but has been known to pen a gothic poem or two. She works at an independent bookstore and dog/house sits on the side. A native Oregonian, she lives with her geriatric cat, Spud, and spends as much of her free time as she can with family and friends. She recently won The Named Lands Poetry Contest. If you would like to find out what she’s working on, please visit her blog.

Stockholm Syndrome Barbie

 A guest post by Kim May.

barbie1For some people, the call to write came late in life. For me, storytelling has been a favorite pastime for as long as I can remember. Really, it has. Now, I’m not just referring to the stories that my folks read to me-though they do play a part. I’m talking about the stories I told as a kid.

That time I told my mom’s friend that I was chased around the house with a butcher knife? Much to my mom’s friend’s relief, that was storytelling.

All those times I lied to my mom so I could place the blame on one of my siblings? Yup. That was storytelling too.

All the hours I played Barbie dolls with my little sister? You better believe it.

You see, our Barbie dolls weren’t content to sit at home and mother all the My Little Ponies, She-Ra, and Rose Petal Place dolls. They had to have fantastic adventures in far-off lands. One of our favorites was a spinoff of Cinderella. First of all, since neither of us wanted to take a back seat to the other, everything was done in duplicate. That meant we had two Cinderellas and two princes (for some reason, we never doubled up on the villains). Rather than sit around and wait for the princes to find them after the ball, our Cinderellas snuck into the palace, knocked the princes unconscious with a thunder egg, kidnapped them, and had a Stockholm-syndrome happily ever after.

Now, you have to keep in mind that I was about eight years old and had no idea that what we were playing out was morally wrong. For us, it was just a fun and empowering twist on a favorite tale. The fact that it gave us an excuse to hog-tie Ken was a bonus.

When we weren’t infringing on the Geneva Convention, we play-acted/discovery-wrote stories that borrowed elements from our favorite books and movies. Those world building skills came in handy in the sixth grade when I had to write a short story for an English assignment. Most of my classmates wrote about their dog or about a stupid, annoying younger sibling that bore a strong resemblance to their own. I, however, had no interest in writing the same story as everyone else. After drawing on Barbie skills, my story ended up being about two talking flowers that were going to save the world after they finished having tea.

In high school, even though I hadn’t touched my dolls for years, I drew on those skills again for another short story assignment. This time I wrote a paranormal YA story-twenty years before it became cool, I might add.

You would think that I would have figured out by then that it was my fate to be a writer. Nope. That realization didn’t come until college. After bopping between eight different science majors, the only thing that didn’t change was my desire to minor in writing. Unfortunately, that was also around the time my life took a sharp turn for the worse. I won’t depress you with the details. Suffice to say, when life turned back around the first thing I did was sit down and write.

I love being a writer. I get to sit down with my characters-my imaginary dolls-every day and take them on fantastic adventures in wondrous places. If those adventures take a turn for the weird, and they most likely will, all the better.

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Kim May writes sci-fi and fantasy but has been known to pen a gothic poem or two. She works at an independent bookstore and dog/house sits on the side. A native Oregonian, she lives with her geriatric cat, Spud, and spends as much of her free time as she can with family and friends. She recently won The Named Lands Poetry Contest. If you would like to find out what she’s working on, please visit her blog.