Tag Archives: When Worlds Collide

A Mountain of Goals, Part Two

A guest post by Sherry Peters.

Cover image BlackBe sure to read A Mountain of Goals, Part One, published yesterday right here on the Fictorians.

I always knew that if I were ever published, I would do everything I could to make my books succeed. The same is true for self-publishing. I’m not going to do what I did with my previous book, Silencing Your Inner Saboteur, which I gave very little promotion (though I may be stepping that up soon as well), because that book was a bit of an experiment and a useful tool.

Once I made the decision to publish Mabel, I began doing a lot of research on the self-publishing/indie industry. It is my responsibility to make my book succeed. I have no one else to blame. Some days I love it. Some days it is incredibly overwhelming. My to-do lists are pages long every week. I could probably make a book of those alone once they’re all compiled!

Aside from the obvious “write the best damn book possible” advice, building a platform is the main form of advice. Platform means building a mail list, blogging, sending out a regular newsletter, facebooking, tweeting… to paraphrase William Shatner, it should be “all Sherry all the time.” I’m supposed to be super interesting and fun and likeable, and apparently highly opinionated in a likeable fun way. Now, I think I am a likeable person. I’m not sure how interesting I am.

What’s interesting about me? What do readers want to know? I’m not really of the generation that wants to know everything about my favorite author. Just write another book; that’s all I want from them. I don’t follow celebrities, and the only authors I friend on Facebook are the ones I already know personally.

You can get a lot of advice on pricing and giveaways, including free books. I must say, I find this a touch on the offensive side. Not that I’m actually offended by the idea, maybe just hurt or disheartened. I can’t imagine a traditional publisher putting out a book on Amazon for free for a day, or even at $0.99 for a day in the hopes of driving up the sales numbers. It feels like I’m cheapening my work, my product. It may be to my detriment, but I’m not sure I’m going to do that.

I realize that I’m at a disadvantage, putting out Mabel this August. I haven’t finished Book 2 in the series yet (though I’m hard at work on it). And putting out a single book means I don’t have what is called a product “funnel,” where readers can get the first book at a discounted price to lure them into buying the second book. That’s why I’m giving away three Mabel Goldenaxe short stories prior to the release of the novel as an incentive/thank you for signing up for my newsletter.

Promotion doesn’t end there, of course. I printed beautiful postcards (through Vistaprint) with the cover on it, and a “call to action”—for people to go to my website, sign up for my newsletter, and get a story—which I put out at my local convention (Keycon). I’m having my book launch at When Words Collide this August, and I’m going to have one at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg.

Promotion, then, is probably the biggest headache which all authors, traditional or indie, have to deal with. That is the reality of the business. Publishers have less and less money to give to it, so we’re doing a lot of the same things. The biggest difference is that traditionally published authors get distribution, and get reviewed by major newspapers (well, they can, if they’re a big enough name, or local, or a specialist). That is to say, most newspapers still won’t consider reviewing a self-published book.

What about the book production? I go for coffee every other week with a friend, usually to a Chapters, and half our time is spent looking at books. I’ve turned this into a great time for surveying what’s out there, what I like, what I don’t, what works and what doesn’t. It’s amazing how many crappy covers there are. And there are some spectacular ones. The artwork matters. It matters. It matters. It matters. So do the interior aesthetics. If the type is too small or too crowded, if it doesn’t feel good in my hand, I don’t pick it up. If the art looks like the pulp editors would have rejected it for being cheesy, I won’t pick it up. If I can’t read the title or the author’s name, I won’t look at it.

There are three main categories for YA covers. Take a look the next time you’re in a bookstore or on the Amazon/Chapters/Barnes & Noble websites. First we have the uber close-up of the face. Usually this means the focus is on the eyes or the lips. Sometimes this pulls out a little further to where we have more of the body, but part is cut out of the frame so it’s only half a face. Sometimes it’s just the torso to show off a plaid pleated skirt (a lot of pleated skirts on headless girls). These are usually in the genre of what used to be called “chick-lit.” I’m not sure what they would be called now.

Then we have the full body, most often with the back to the reader, the head in half-turn. This fits mainly into the urban fantasy or paranormal romance category. But not always. There are some like this that are much more pure romance, as evidenced by the character on the cover wearing a ball gown of some kind.

And finally, we have the symbol on the cover. I think this was made most popular by The Hunger Games. Divergent is another example of this. We see this much more often in the non-YA books, like the adult editions of the Harry Potter books, and the Game of Thrones books are going the same way.

Given the prose style and content of Mabel, I opted for the semi-close-up. I had intended to go with a symbol, but there were already a few books out there with axes on them and while it could be stunning and unique, I couldn’t picture it. So I did my research. I spent days researching fantasy artists, finding out about their work, their rates, etc. To be honest, once I saw Jordy Lakiere’s dwarves, I knew he was the one I wanted. I didn’t think I could afford him, or that he’d want to do a cover for me, but I took a deep breath and e-mailed. Needless to say, it worked out great. I love the Mabel he did for me.

Cover art, in some ways, is just the beginning. I wanted to put out the most professional book I could. And what do traditionally published authors have that indies don’t (besides distribution)? A copyeditor. So I did more research, and I happened to also know a good editor personally, Samantha Beiko. She posted on Facebook that she was looking for freelance editing right when I was looking. Budget, of course, was a consideration, but copyediting was an expense I was willing to pay for. She also did my cover design and the back cover copy.

While the production of the book is well underway (thanks to having done Silencing Your Inner Saboteur, I’m confident in doing the interior layout myself), the promotion is still my biggest mountain to climb. I’d call it a hurdle, but it’s more of a never-ending process. I hope that at some point down the road, I’ll reach a plateau of sorts where, as the gurus keep telling me, promotion will generate itself.

I was going to conclude by saying that I’m off to go learn more about building my platform, but I think I’m going to go work on Mabel, Book 2. That’s one of the working titles. The others are Mabel the Misguided Dwarf—or my personal favorite, Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf. But for now, let’s just call it Mabel, Book 2.

sherry1Guest Writer Bio:
Hailing from Winnipeg, Sherry Peters is a writer and a certified Success Coach for writers specializing in the areas of goal-setting and eliminating writer’s block. She has taught her “Silencing Your Inner Saboteur” workshop online through Savvy Authors, and several Romance Writers of America chapters, and in person at When Words Collide in Calgary and Word on the Water in Kenora. Her book, Silencing Your Inner Saboteur, has sold internationally and has been recommended to graduate students at the University of North Carolina and the University of Winnipeg. Her first novel, a YA fantasy, Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, will be available August 2014. She attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop and earned her M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. For more information on Sherry, her workshops, and her coaching, visit her coaching website or her author website.

A Mountain of Goals, Part One

A guest post by Sherry Peters.

Mabel coverThis was not my plan. A part of me still wants to be rescued from this and put back on the track that was supposed to be. But the more I learn about the business of self-publishing, the more I realize that even authors on the track-that-was-supposed-to-be have to go through much of the same. And I’m a bit of a control freak at times, so being in control of every aspect of publishing my book is fabulous and terrifying at the same time.

Making the decision to self-publish Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf (arriving August 9, 2014) wasn’t an easy one. I waffled on it for months. A number of factors played into my decision, most of them personal. I’d first seriously considered the self-publishing route at When Words Collide in 2013. I was chatting with my friends Adria Laycraft and Gerald Brandt, discussing the industry, when I declared that I would be launching Mabel at When Words Collide 2014. I didn’t finalize that decision until the end of February 2014.

What were the decisions? Most of them were personal, and I firmly believe that everyone needs to decide for themselves whether it’s the right route for them, and their particular book. But here’s what went into my decision-making process:

  1. At When Words Collide, I had taken a workshop with one of the Acquisitions Editors from Penguin Canada. She was very clear in saying that a lot of publishers now look at what is rising on the indie publishing bestseller charts. Those are the manuscripts they’re picking up, not necessarily agented ones. Why? Because the writer already has a readership—a platform—that has been proven. Guaranteed sales.
  1. I had an agent who doesn’t represent YA. I’d seriously considered revising the novel and giving her first dibs on representing it or allowing me to find a YA agent. That process is glacial, but I was willing to consider it. Until I remembered the seventy-five or so agents who had already rejected it (it is a much better novel now than when they read it), and most of those were YA agents, so what was the point? Of the agents who bothered to respond to my query, even asking for partials, fulls, and revisions, it seemed to come down to “it isn’t marketable.” This was before The Hobbit movie had come out. Perhaps I should have mentioned that Peter Jackson was working on making the movie in my query letter. Ooops.
  1. In March, due to serious health issues, my agent had to let me go. Yes, I’d already decided to self-pub at this point, but I was concerned about the six-month window to put out Book 2. As sad as it was for me to lose my agent, and I continue to hope and pray that her health improves, it freed me up to work on Book 2 rather than try and fail to get another manuscript to her. (She had another one, unrelated to Mabel, that she was shopping around).
  1. The Hugh Howey reports on Author Earnings were somewhat eye-opening. Sure, they aren’t perfect reports, and there are probably a million ways to question the data—people have done so on Facebook—but the bottom line is this: self-published books sell. It takes a whole lot of work, but they sell. It isn’t like the old days when you had to print a thousand copies and have boxes in your apartment taking up room and wondering why you weren’t on the bestsellers list or on Oprah’s Book Club.
  1. I have a decent-paying day job, and income from my coaching business. Printing books on demand is inexpensive, creating e-books is free, and I could afford a decent artist and a copyeditor without having to mortgage my home. I am by no means well off, but I do need to be economical in my grocery shopping, and I don’t have as much money for extras like going to a movie, but I’m easily willing to make that sacrifice for a beautiful, professional product that I can be proud of.
  1. This is probably the most personal part of the decision. I was tired of waiting. I can be really impatient about a lot of things, but when it comes to the publishing industry, as frustrating as it is, I accept the glaciality. Mabel has been a character in my head for almost nine years (as of the time of writing). She started as a joke, but she wouldn’t let go. I wrote stories about her. She became my Master’s Thesis, becoming a novel. Since grad school, I’ve had former classmates of mine ask about Mabel, wondering what was happening with the novel. I’d put it in cryogenics, likely to never see the light of day again. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let her go. And neither, apparently, could my classmates. So I had some of them read it. I also contacted a few teens to read it, to see if it was worth putting out there, if it was, indeed, marketable. Their feedback was phenomenal, and a resounding “Yes.”

Between August 2013 and February 2014, I wrote a first draft of another novel, editing Mabel from what had been my M.A. Thesis at Seton Hill University, and researched self-publishing—not a lot, but enough to make the decision and feel that it was the right one.

Publishing has always been a career choice for me. That is to say, I have always wanted a career as a published novelist and I strive daily to be as knowledgeable and professional about it as I can. That’s why I attended Odyssey and Seton Hill. Have I made missteps? Absolutely. For one, I really wish I’d learned how to write short stories better. But that was a somewhat conscious decision on my part, not to focus on short stories.

I have always done my best to be disciplined in my writing, because I truly believe that while I can take all the time I want to write my first book, once I sign that contract, I don’t have the same freedom, and all my excuses for not writing won’t play with an editor and a deadline. The sooner I eliminate those excuses, the better shape I’ll be in when that contract comes along. But that contract isn’t coming, and so I’m self-publishing.

Now I need to be more disciplined than ever.

Come back tomorrow and join Sherry as she dives headlong into the myriad everyday goals and decisions she now faces as a self-published author.

sherry1Guest Writer Bio:
Hailing from Winnipeg, Sherry Peters is a writer and a certified Success Coach for writers specializing in the areas of goal-setting and eliminating writer’s block. She has taught her “Silencing Your Inner Saboteur” workshop online through Savvy Authors, and several Romance Writers of America chapters, and in person at When Words Collide in Calgary and Word on the Water in Kenora. Her book, Silencing Your Inner Saboteur, has sold internationally and has been recommended to graduate students at the University of North Carolina and the University of Winnipeg. Her first novel, a YA fantasy, Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, will be available August 2014. She attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop and earned her M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. For more information on Sherry, her workshops, and her coaching, visit her coaching website or her author website.

How do Conventions Choose Their Guests?

A guest post by Randy McCharles.

Randy McCharles Capone NovelHave you ever wondered why some of your favorite authors appear frequently as convention guests while others are so scarce you sometimes wonder if they are even real people? Well, there are two main factors. The first one is simple. Some authors enjoy and see business benefits of convention appearances and make themselves available. Other do not. You almost have to kidnap them to make an appearance. The second factor is much trickier. Every convention is fairly unique in its goals and finances. The cost of bringing in guests is usually the most expensive line item in the budget, but even more important, each convention has a unique vision of the experience it wishes to provide its attendees. While there is no official breakdown, I have defined six conference models that provide different mixes of content for ‘craft’ (craft development opportunities for writers) VS ‘commercial’ (content readers enjoy such as meeting their favorite authors, hearing them speak, and getting autographs). Most literary events with guests will fall near one of these categories.


I use “Literary Festival” to describe events that are generally open market bookstores. Readers drop in for a fee of $0 (or near $0) to buy books from vendors and get them signed by authors. Many of these events bring in a few big name authors as a means of promoting the event and drawing more readers. The costs are paid for by selling the tables to vendors. Usually, guests do not provide presentations, though this has been an increasing phenomena. Often such presentations have a separate fee.

The “Trade Show” is similar to the Literary Festival in that it is mostly vendor tables, but they have a larger emphasis on guest presentations and panel discussions. While historically such trade shows deal solely with visual media (film and comics), they are increasingly including authors and books. Unlike Literary Festivals, these generally cost as much as $100 to attend.

The “Fan Convention” is fairly unique in that, unlike most other models, it is not run as a business. Instead, volunteers run it from the top down, with no paid staff. Guests also volunteer, having their travel and accommodations paid for, but generally donating their time, much of which is spent in presentations and panel discussion. Attending these events usually costs around $50.

The “Reader/Writer Festival” is an offshoot of the Fan Convention, or perhaps a return to what many Fan Conventions were in the 70’s. While today’s Fan Conventions often focus on visual media, including film, costuming, and anime, the Reader/Writer festival focuses on books and provides content for readers as well as writers. Like Fan Conventions, these are usually volunteer run, guests donate their time on presentations and panels, and attending costs around $50.

The “Writers Conference” is focused on craft development and is of little interest to non-writers. Guests do receive a substantial honorarium, but are also required to be successful instructors as well as successful writers. They generally offer some books sales and autographs that are open to the public. Cost of attending is in the several hundred dollar range.

The “Writers Workshop” is a more participatory version of the Writers Conference, usually much smaller, and requires attendees to work like university students. The guest instructors, as well, must work like university instructors. Cost of attending is generally much higher than a Writers Conference, and many workshops vet their attendees.

You may have noticed a correlation between guest honorariums and cost of attending. As I mentioned earlier, the cost of bringing in guests is usually the most expensive cost for any convention. Those that offer higher honorariums must find the funds somewhere, usually by charging their attendees a higher ticket price. Conversely, those that offer their guests higher honorariums usually also demand more from their guests, which brings me back to guest availability.

The business of authors is not attending conventions. It is writing books. Taking time out of your writing schedule to attend a convention as a guest is time not spent writing. Some authors do not wish to lose this writing time. Some are willing to sell their time. However, not all convention models can afford to buy it. eg. If Fan Conventions began providing high honorariums like Writers Conferences, they would cost more to attend ($75 instead of $50) and have to make other changes. That price tag doesn’t work for their model and can lead to bankruptcy. Fan Conventions exist, however, because many authors opt to volunteer their time, either as pay-it-forward for help they received earlier in their careers, as part of their brand marketing, or as simply an opportunity to meet their readers. Often all three.

Some authors do make attending conventions part of their business. Especially if teaching craft becomes part of their brand. Many authors love to teach craft. Some even write books about it. You will find such authors as guests at Writers Workshops, Writers Conferences, and Reader/Writer festivals.

So picture yourself as an organizer for a convention. It doesn’t matter which model you choose. You have a guest budget. It may be $5,000 (a small Fan Convention) or $50,000 (A large Writer’s Conference). What kind of guests do you need? Best-selling authors to autograph books? Authors who are not shy and love to talk with their readers? Authors who can give great presentations on craft development? Authors who can help writers with their manuscripts? All of the above? How much can you afford to spend on guest travel? Can you bring someone from the UK or Australia to North America? Or must you limit yourself to $500 flights? Can you afford to bring in your guest’s spouse? (Double the airfare.) Sticking with a budget is tricky, especially when a wide range of factors can impact the cost of bringing in any particular guest.

Let’s say you’ve identified the perfect guests. Are they available? Do they receive 100 guest invitations a year and can only accept 2? Do they even do conventions? Is your convention on their radar?

I’ve been organizing conventions since 2001. I’ve worked on a local fan convention, a regional fan convention (Westercon), an international writers convention (World Fantasy), and currently chair the When Words Collide Readers/Writers festival. After 13 years it is still difficult to identify the perfect guest — someone who delivers on the convention’s vision, is affordable and, most important, is available. It usually takes nine months to secure five guests. Sound like fun? Well, it is, actually. And you do get to meet a lot of really interesting authors.

As a final note I’ll list a few reasons why authors I’ve invited in the past have turned down the invitation (all perfectly valid, especially if they travel a lot):

  1. Air travel is a pain. I only travel to conventions that have a direct flight from my city.
  2. Air travel is a pain. I only travel business class. (This was from the UK and severely broke the budget)
  3. I won’t leave the country. (This was from the US invited to Canada).
  4. I don’t do conventions that time of year; I spend it with my family.
  5. I am already booked that weekend.

There have also been some success stories:

  1. Someone who doesn’t fly came to Calgary by train. From Texas!
  2. Someone who is very busy was finally available after being invited 4 years in a row.
  3. Many authors who are very busy had the stars align and were able to accept their invitation within days of receiving it.

All that said, having inviting innumerable guests to conventions over the years, I have a long list of people I would love to see as guests at some point. I often travel to distant conventions to see them. There is a wealth of terrific authors out there. Reading their books is a pleasure. Meeting them in person, doubly so.

BTW Two aliens walk into a bar and spot their favorite author sitting at a table having a drink. One alien turns to the other and says, “I wonder if she traveled as far to get here as we did?”

RandyMcCharlesRandy McCharles Bio:Randy McCharles is an award-winning author of speculative short fiction, and was included in Year’s Best Fantasy 9. In January 2014, he left his day job to write full time and focus his attention on novel length works. When not making up tall tales, Randy organizes literary events, including chairing the When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers. You can find out more about Randy on his web site: http://randymccharles.com