The Moonwalking Bear, and why you’re not done when you’re done

Disclaimer: I told myself when I started this blog that I would never cross the line into trying to tell writers what or how to write. I’m about to toe that line very closely, but for what I hope is a very good cause. Proceed at your own risk. 

I have this friend...

I have this friend, who’s also a writer. I distinguish these two titles for an important reason: Past experience has taught me that if I don’t, one overwhelms the other, and the relationship suffers. So when I say I have a friend who is a writer, it’s because I place the importance on the friendship part, with the writer part being an afterthought. This is important for the story I want to tell. 

My friend recently finished writing a new book. He was super excited about it. It’s a new genre for him and he put in a lot of hard work to get to The End. He texted me as soon as he did, and I could practically see him bouncing in his seat with happiness. He jokingly asked me, “What do I do now?” 

I answered, “You put it away for a month and think of something else.” It’s something I learned very early on, and it’s been my mantra for as long as I myself have been a writer, so I said it out of habit. But in the back of my mind, I also wanted to say it to underscore the importance of taking a break, because my friend, as much as I love him, has a bad habit of jumping the gun in many aspects of writing and publishing. 

He replied, “Right! I’ll do that.” 

A couple of weeks later, we were texting again (I’m very much not a phone call person) and he randomly mentioned that he didn’t know what to do with his time now, since his book was with the editor.  

Record screech stop. 

“Wait, which book?” I asked. “Not the one you just finished, right?”  As far as I knew, he didn’t have anything else ready for editing, unless he was re-editing one of his older works. 

He sheepishly replied, “Yeah, that one. I know, you told me to wait, but I just didn’t see the point.” 

Not gonna lie, that hit a very bad nerve in my brain. 

He went on to explain his reasoning behind it, but none of it made any difference whatsoever to my mind. It sounded to me like he was making excuses for not doing his job, not delivering the book his readers deserved. As a reader, what I heard was, “I got tired of fixing it, so I sent it off to someone else to fix it for me.” 

Taking a deep breath, and reminding myself that this was my friend, not a writing partner, I said, “This is one of those times when I have to give it to you straight, no sugar coating.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I know you’re disappointed because you told me to wait.”

“You just wasted your money and your editor’s time.” Honestly, that is the nicest way I could put it. I tend to not mince words when it comes to quality control, and I have some very strong opinions on the matter. Which kept me talking even when, in the back of my mind, I knew I should shut the hell up. “Your editor is not there to fix your mistakes. They’re there to polish the best version of the book you can possibly deliver. And the first draft of anything is never the best version. Not for any writer.”

What followed was me trying (and failing) to explain my reasoning, and him trying (and failing) to defend his, saying something that sounded to me like, “At a certain point I just don’t care anymore.” Not his words, but that’s what I heard and I pounced on that telling him, “As a reader, when I hear you say that, I think, you don’t care about your book, so why should I?”

Something that gets under my skin in a bad way is when authors throw out editions like it’s perfectly acceptable to use readers as proofreaders. Like it’s okay to make them pay for a book that they know for a fact has errors, have them point out said errors in the reviews, so the writer can then go back and fix them, and rerelease as a new edition in the future. No faster way to lose my respect for you, and ensure I will never read one of your books again.

My friend tried to tell me that wasn’t the case at all. He wasn’t asking anyone to fix his errors, and of course he delivers the best book he can. It’s just that he goes over it so many times that he eventually can’t see anything else to fix and needs a second set of eyes.

At this point, I realized we were both talking about the same thing, just on completely different frequencies. He wasn’t grasping that what I was saying was, in fact, the solution to the problem he was describing. 

I said, “YES! Exactly. That’s why you need the break. If you just keep going over it and over it, you lose sight of the big picture. Can’t see the forest for the trees.”

He tried to explain that that wasn’t it, and then proceeded to repeat the same issue in a different way, adding, “Would I be able to see more errors after a break? Maybe. But I doubt it.” He didn’t get it. I didn’t explain it well enough. All he kept saying was that he loses sight of the story even while he’s reading it, so by the time he finishes going over it, he’s in the same place he was before.

Forest for the freaking trees.  

So I tried again. Because this was too important for me to let go. I’m not my friend’s writing coach, and I didn’t want to cross any lines, but I figured I already did just by broaching this subject, so what the hell? In the interest of making myself clear, nothing more, I said, “When you keep rereading the same thing over and over without a break, your brain gets used to the patterns it sees on the page. You end up skimming the familiar shapes, but don’t actually read the words that are there. You just perceive what you think is there. Which makes it extremely difficult to find any potential issues. By taking a break, you rest your brain and get some distance. After a month or two of not looking at it or thinking about it, when you look at the book with fresh eyes, it feels like someone else wrote it. You have some distance to notice things you haven’t before. So it’s not so much about the art of writing, more of a technical trick that makes it easier to spot issues.”

He was replying in between my partial texts with things like, “Well I know that to be some TRUTH right there.” and, “OMG, yes!” Fully agreeing with what I was saying–what I’d been trying to say this whole time. When I finished he said, “Huh… when you say it like that it makes so much sense. People kept telling me to take a break but I kept thinking why? No one ever explained it this way. Ugh. Now I’m mad at myself.”

I could have done a happy dance. Not because I’d changed his mind, but because I finally managed to get on the same wavelength and explain in a way that resonated with him. Seriously, it just made me giddy. For all that I can tell a fantastic story (if I do say so myself) sometimes my communication skills fail me in real life. I can put my foot in it, and usually do more often than not.

Perception check

When people (myself included) advise to take a break, there’s a reason. It applies to anything you do in life, not just novel writing. Studies have been done over the years on how the human brain works, how we process, create, and imagine. I think the most recent thing I read, earlier this year, was in an article about how the work day/week structure is counterproductive to productivity. The human mind can only dedicate itself to full concentration on a task for about 3-4 hours max. After that, it just can’t focus right without a break. It was an argument for shorter work days and work weeks to increase productivity in the workplace across the board. 

It makes sense. Our minds are capable of so much, but we’re not robots. We weren’t built to do one thing for extended periods of time. It’s not healthy, and it leads to so many issues, for us, for our work, and for the people around us.

Another study I came across some years ago said this also applies to creativity. We like to think that all we need is long stretches of peace and quiet and that bestseller will basically write itself. Turns out, we are more creative and productive in our creative endeavors with periodic distractions. Who would have thought it, right?

So what does that all add up to? Perception. When you can’t (or won’t) disengage from a task for long periods of time, you get tunnel vision. You stop thinking of the task before you and switch to thinking about it being done and over. You might not consciously set out to do so, but your brain subconsciously switches gears in a bad way. Either you stop seeing the forest for the trees, get lost in the weeds, and can’t think yourself out of a wet paper bag, or you stop seeing the details, skim over the big picture, and fly right over some crater-sized potholes. 

Tunnel vision, one way or another. 

A very good example is this video. You may have seen it already, but in case you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you. Just give it a quick watch. It’s not very long:

A very personal conclusion

That level of tunnel vision isn’t limited to certain tasks. It can apply to life in general. I get it whenever I focus so hard on the business side of publishing that I lose sight of the love I have for books and writing. It’s happened before, but over the last couple of years it’s gotten so bad I stopped reading all together and writing became a chore. I became disillusioned, bitter, and defeated. I started seeing all the bad, and my writing became a commercial failure, rather than my much needed escape from reality. I should have been able to sink deep into books and swim my way to sanity when COVID hit. Instead, all I could see was how nothing I did made even the slightest bit of difference.

I’d burned out. 

I’d burned out so badly, that even the thought of trying to write made me resentful. I started to hate the publishing industry as a monster that devoured talent, killed dreams, and broke spirits, all while dangling that golden carrot of “success” as an ever possible, but rarely achievable goal in front of my nose.

The hardest thing about it is that my brain refused to disengage from it.

I told myself 2021 was going to be the year I took a break. I’d finished Prince of Deceit and published it at the end of 2020, the final book in a trilogy I’d been working on for over a decade, and it felt like the end of an era. Even my afterword at the end of the story somehow came out like a fond farewell to fantasy, and fiction in general. I was just done.

In January, I put all three novels into a hardcover tome so I could have something epic on my bookshelves. 

During summer, I got that last book produced on audio to complete the set.

A month ago, I logged out of my author social media because it had become so toxic I didn’t want to be there anymore. And now I’m here, writing this blog that feels like I’m saying good-bye. 

I’m subconsciously putting my writing affairs in order, even while I tell myself this isn’t the end. Each action is a period and hard break where there should be ellipses. 

I don’t want this to be the end. But at the same time, I’m not healed enough yet to start over. I resolved to read 2 books a month this year, and I’m happy to report that I have already hit 24 books read in 2021. It’s rekindled my love of reading, but writing is still dormant. I do still put a few words on the page here and there, but it’s sporadic, and I don’t do it with any sort of publishing goal in mind. I’m doing it only when I want to, when I feel the words clawing to be released, because that’s when it feels the most rewarding. Otherwise, I don’t even open a word document to try. The effort is no longer worth it. 

My break hasn’t been long enough. And it hasn’t been as complete as I need it to be. So yes, I am putting my affairs in order with this blog post. It’s been great while it lasted, but I’ve run out of helpful advice to share. I’ll keep it active, but I doubt there will be many updates going forward. Mostly because it perpetuates the problem: focusing my brain on the industry and not the beauty of writing.

To everyone who’s read this far and followed my blog, I send a heartfelt thank you. To everyone who’s read this blog and got curious enough about my books to buy one, words of gratitude will never be enough. 

I hope, if you’ve read this far, that I haven’t completely ruined your opinion of me as a writer. I hope you don’t think of me as someone who’s just giving up because she can’t hack it. I’m not giving up. I’m simply sorting out my priorities. The stories I tell are my priority. How I tell them is very much a priority. How well they sell simply isn’t and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be. If my focus is more on how many books I sell than how well I told the story, I haven’t been doing my job.

Some people can do both at the same time. I’m not one of them. I’ve never compromised quality at any step in the writing and publishing of my books. But trying to also be a rock star promoter is not something I am capable of doing, and pushing myself to do it is what got me to this stage.

I’ve been publishing works of fiction for over ten years, and have a healthy backlist to show for it. If I never publish another story, I won’t be mad. I’ve left my mark on the world and I’m happy with that. From now on, I write for the love of it. And I sincerely hope you’ll come along on the journey. It’ll be long, and you’ll have to be patient, but one thing I can promise you is that the wait for the next book will absolutely be worth it. 

Until next time (whenever that may be...)

Alianne Donnelly is an avid lover of stories of all kinds. Raised on a healthy diet of fairy tales in a place where they almost seemed real, she grew into a writer who seeks magic in the modern age and enjoys sharing a little bit of it with the world through every story she writes. Her books span the spectrum from fantasy to science fiction with varying degrees of romance sprinkled throughout. Alianne now lives in California, where she spends her free time reading, writing, and daydreaming. To read more about her books and works in progress, visit her author website: aliannedonnelly.com

Continue Reading The Moonwalking Bear, and why you’re not done when you’re done

Read More, Read BETTER

This is going to be part author tip, part lecture (not the boring, preachy kind, I hope) and part recommendation list. It will likely be on the long side, but bear with me, there is a point to it, I promise.

THE LECTURE

We’ve all heard the saying that in order to be a great writer, you have to be an avid reader. Want to improve your writing? Read more.

That saying in and of itself is an example of the problem with the saying. Yes, if you want to be a great writer, you definitely need to read a lot. But there is nuance to that, which you kind of have to intuit. The act of reading in and of itself isn’t enough. The trick is in how you read.

You’ve heard about active listening, right? It’s the concept of listening to understand, not to form a response. See, when you listen with the intent of forming a response, you’re not really listening to what someone is telling you. You have an agenda and you automatically fit what is being said into what you want to hear so you can respond. By doing that, you miss the message. Active listening means paying attention to what is being said and how it’s being said. You then repeat it back to the speaker to confirm that you understood what they’re trying to say, and only then do you respond.

The same applies to reading. In order to hone your own writing style, you need to practice active reading (and I totally made that term up, but it’s the most fitting term for what I mean). You need to not just read the book, but also absorb the technical details about it. Analyze the voice, appreciate the diction, trace the story arc, dig deep into the characters’ psyche. Think about why the author wrote what they did, how it fits into the overall whole of the book.

It’s a lot less fun than reading for pleasure, I’ll tell you that. And it will absolutely ruin you as a reader because, once you see behind the curtain, you won’t be able to close it back again. You will start to critique every new book you read, even the ones you absolutely love. That’s the sacrifice you make to become a good writer. Because you need to be able to identify things you like and dislike in the books you read in order to be able to identify them in the books you write.

THE AUTHOR TIP

That concludes the lecture part of this post. Now on to the tip and reading list.

I propose that every author brings something unique to their books. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on it, but when you see it, you recognize that, “Yep, that’s definitely a John Smith book.” That’s what you want to find–in other people’s books, as well as in yourself as an author. What makes them special? What is your own something special?

A while back, I put together a list of books I thought every writer should read, for various reasons. I want to share that here with you now. If you’ve already read these books, try reading them again, while keeping these notes in mind. You might notice some things you missed before.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VOICE AND STYLE

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Ms. Austen had an earworm of a writing style. I’m not even kidding. Why do you think it’s been emulated so much? Read one of her books and then try to write one chapter in that same style. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to do, and how hard it is to stop.

When I got this assignment in high school, I ended up writing a 40-page novella, rather than just a chapter, and it’s influenced my writing ever since. Austen’s writing style is so sophisticated and lyrical, but not pretentious at all. It flows through your mind and makes you feel like you’re wearing a period costume and reclining on a drawing room settee. It’s beautiful. Plain and simple.

The Dust Lands Series by Moira Young

In contrast to that, I present to you the Dust Lands series by Moira Young. Compared to Austen, the voice of this series feels like a train wreck in the beginning but, like Austen, it gets under your skin. The style of this series is very deliberate. It speaks to the theme of the books, and is basically written as if someone from that book was telling you the story. It shoves you face first into this dystopian world and at first you hate it, then you want more, then you can’t get back out.


The voice and style of your book is extremely important–it sets the stage and paints the world you’re describing. But it doesn’t have to be grammatically flawless and poetic to make an impact. Sometimes, going against the grain is the best thing you can do.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ATMOSPHERICS

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This book changed the way I thought about books, and it required a brilliant English teacher to point it out to me, because I would have missed it otherwise. That’s how brilliant this actually is–you don’t realize the brilliance of it because you’re so engrossed in the scene you’re not thinking about the writing anymore.

Conrad is very good at telling the story from a specific character’s perspective. You see, hear, and feel what the character feels. That means, when he’s eavesdropping on someone’s conversation and those people move away, their dialogue fades out and you strain to try to hear more. You catch pieces here and there, holding your breath so you don’t get noticed. You’re no longer reading the book, you’re inside the story.

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

I’m including this book because it’s one of my all time favorites. There are plenty of things I love about it, but one of them is the way Ms. Kleypas describes her settings. Like Conrad, she puts you into the scene. When Sara is chasing off Derek’s attackers, you can feel the cold damp of the London night. When she’s hiding with Derek behind the curtain of the music room, you feel the heady heat of the scene, and your heart beats faster hoping no one pulls that curtain back.

When it comes to historical settings, authors sometimes have the tendency to go overboard with description in the interest of historical accuracy. Not so with Kleypas. She focuses on the story itself and the setting, while accurate (as far as I know), is only a part of it.


The beauty of descriptives is that they don’t have to drone on. In fact, their impact is far greater when they’re succinct and to the point. Both of these books are an excellent example of this.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Dickens needs no introduction. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, I highly recommend that you do. This was the first book I’ve read by him, and I loved it from the very beginning. The story follows a young boy called Pip as his life takes several unexpected twists and turns and what I loved about it is the unvarnished way in which it is related.

Pip isn’t perfect. He is a young child when all this begins and, as such, you get to see him grow up, make mistakes, form attachments and prejudices, etc. At times, I wanted to slap him. At others, I felt horrible for what he was being put through. By the end, though he was still a very young man, he’s already lived a life fuller than most people will ever have. His flaws are what make Pip such an amazing character. Because perfection is boring. As readers, what we relate to are a character’s flaws and shortcomings. What we want is to see them triumph despite them.

By the way, Pip isn’t the only character in this story written in such a brilliant fashion. The entire cast of characters is presented in a way that will leave a lasting impression on the reader, which is a rare thing in literature.

The Rule of Four by Dustin Thomason and Ian Caldwell 

These two gentlemen wrote a book that became wholly and unfairly overshadowed by the phenomenon of The DaVinci Code. It’s called The Rule of Four and I recommend it here for one reason: the main character. Not the narrator, mind you, but the main character driving the plot. Similar to The Heart of Darkness, this story is told by an outside observer (and, really, it overlaps my recommendation category to Atmospherics as well because of it). You follow along from an intellectual distance, so you never get the full feel of the tension, frustration, and passion of this quest, you just get to bear witness to it. It’s that distance which makes this book so brilliant. Because you feel the narrator’s dismissal and simultaneous intrigue. You want to know more but are denied almost to the very end.

This book is not an action-packed adventure, but when the action does happen, it grips you unexpectedly hard because of it and you realize how attached you’ve grown to this one character. And therein lies its brilliance: You care almost despite yourself, and for reasons that seem so flimsy on the surface, but run as deep as if it was your actual best friend in that scene.


In any given book, it’s either the characters who drive the plot, or the plot that changes the characters. You can choose one, or the other, or sometimes both, but whichever it is, it’s not the action that makes readers connect with and relate to the characters, it’s the emotional context. Subtlety is the name of the game. At least it is in my own writing.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PLOT AND DIALOGUE

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Have you read this one? Whether you say yes or no, you probably already know the story from somewhere. That’s how amazing it is. This book is not only well-written, it tells a story that sticks with you forever. It’s just so… big. It takes you to lots of different places, introduces lots of different characters, all of whom are in some way connected, but at the same time, it all centers around one man and his life. Edmond Dantes becomes the fulcrum on which all those lives turn. And they don’t even know it…

Seriously, if you haven’t read it yet, do. Take notes on how to tell a brilliant tale of love, pain, anguish, and revenge. Admire the genius of what Edmond has achieved and how. The behind-the-scenes machinations, the benevolence of his favor and the malice of his wrath. Absolutely nothing this man does is ever without an underlying reason. Whether it’s taking out a loan, or casually mentioning a medicinal tonic that can just as easily become a deadly poison.

This is a really long book, but it reads so quickly you don’t notice the page count. That’s brilliant story telling right there.

Dark Desires After Dusk by Kresley Cole

If you ask me who my favorite author is, right now, and for the last few years, it’s been Kresley Cole. She is a paranormal romance author and her books have never ever disappointed me. She has a singular gift for sarcasm and wit, and she brings that into her dialogue. A lot of times, writers adopt a very formal style with their dialogue which can come across stiff and unnatural. Ms. Cole writes the way people actually talk. And that can be a huge deal for a story, especially one set in present day(ish). You can see their conversations happening in real life, which makes the characters extremely relatable. Not only that, they’re also hilarious.

Dark Desires After Dusk might be my favorite of this entire series and it’s because of the hero, Cadeon Woede and his shameless sense of humor. This book is definitely worth reading, even if maybe you’re not really into paranormal romance. Just pay attention to the dialogue. I promise, you’ll appreciate the hell out of it. 😉 [just a bit of demon humor there]


I lumped the plot and dialogue in the same category because a great first chapter will hook a reader, but these two are what will keep them reading. If you don’t have your story plotted out properly, you will lose your readers in a heartbeat. They will spot plot holes from a mile away, and they may not be very forgiving. And dialogue is often times the hardest thing to get right. It requires a keen ear and a gift for listening. You need to be able to emulate natural speech from all walks of life in your chosen time period, but still make it relatable for readers in the here and now. But if you can do that, you’re halfway there. 


NOTICE ANYTHING WEIRD?

So now you’ve read the whole list. Notice anything special about it? Every single category has one classic and one contemporary title. There is a reason for that. The classics are, of course, classic for a reason, but if you’ve ever actually read them, you’ll know that not all of them are all that well-written or enjoyable (coughFrankensteincough). I think it’s because the stories and the message they convey transcend time, but the books themselves do not. Not everything written 100+ years ago will appeal to modern audiences. We can appreciate them in the context of their own time period, but sometimes they become more of an intellectual exercise, rather than something to savor for its own sake.

There are scores of modern books that are well worth reading and learning from, both for their ability to connect with their own audience, and for their unique, timeless qualities. Will these modern books be taught in schools a hundred years from now? I have no idea. But, as a writer, I can say I’ve developed a deep appreciation for them and what they’ve done for my own writing.

That’s all I have for you today. 🙂 Until next time!

GOT A LIST OF YOUR OWN? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS!

Continue Reading Read More, Read BETTER

Lessons From A Book Signing

So, you may not know this, but I actually write books. 😉 I know, shocking… I’ve been a writer for a long time, published for the last 9 years, but this year marks the first time I have ever stepped out into the world of author events as an attending author. I just came back from my very first group signing in Indianapolis, IN, and wanted to share with you how it went and some lessons I learned from the experience.

The nerve wracking “before”

It all began two weeks ago when I got a notification on my phone that a major runway at my take-off airport was closing down for repairs. The airline told me there would be significant delays and/or cancellations and advised me to fly a day earlier or later if my plans were flexible. The story was picked up by the local news which reported on Monday that there had been “dozens” of cancellations already that day.

Cue bone-deep panic. My plans were not at all flexible. There was only one direct flight out per day, and I couldn’t get the extra day off work, or the extra night at the hotel. If my flight got cancelled, I’d be screwed. Hell, if my luggage got lost, I’d be screwed, since I was bringing all my books for the signing with me. I spent a week stressing over it so much that by Thursday (the day before I was scheduled to fly) I existed in a state of constant anxiety over it. I checked and re-check everything. I packed as many books as I could fit into my carry-on, just in case my luggage got lost. I set multiple alarms and scheduled my ride to the airport so I’d get there super early.

Then I got the official seating chart for the event and discovered that I would be sitting with my back to the main entrance, and I didn’t have a two-sided banner. This might have been a small issue for some, but it was a big deal to me, so I ended up ordering a rush printed second banner at a local printer so I could double up and be visible from both sides.

Happily, my flight was on time, and the only hiccup I had was that I’d left my lip balm at home. I arrived in Indianapolis a half-hour early, with all my luggage accounted for, and checked in at the hotel. Did not sleep a wink that night, but I was on-site, so all was good.

Also happily, it turned out I misread the seating chart and was actually facing the entrance. But I still used both banners, just because I could. I regret nothing, except that I could have gotten that second banner much cheaper if I had bought it along with my first, rather than doing it last minute. But that’s done now. Moving on!

The Setup 

I will say the wait was the absolute worst. I made it a point to wake up early and have a huge breakfast because I knew I would not be leaving my table once I got there. Our set up time started at 9am and the doors officially opened at noon and closed at 5pm.

I had my table layout all planned out, but ended up changing it because of some silly technical difficulties. The plastic stands I got for my bookmarks were too unstable, so I nixed them and just laid out the bookmarks flat. My business cards are unique in that they are half matte and half raised gloss finish. Turns out, that gloss tends to stick to itself so my stack of business cards became a solid, inseparable brick. I had to separate them by hand and lay them out in a long row so they could be grabbed easily.

A last-minute addition to my table was a tablet that played my book trailer videos on loop (or so I thought). I checked it throughout the event to see if it was working, and laughed because each time I checked I caught it at a specific moment in the video. Yeah, turned out that was because for some crazy reason, the loop function got stuck on only the last 40 seconds of the 7.5 minute video.

Also on my table was a stack of two-sided book lists with all the covers on one side and an actual list on the other. The list included all my titles and ISBNs for all the formats they’re available in, as well as genres and tropes for each series. I handed these out to everyone who had me sign something for them, if they didn’t grab one on their own.

Lastly, I had a clipboard with a newsletter sign up sheet. I offered a free audiobook to everyone who signed up for my newsletter at the event. I ended up with 27 sign ups, which I think was a little over 10% capture rate. Not bad!

The Event

I was super nervous, but I took it as a learning experience so, no matter what happened (or didn’t happen) I was going to be happy with the outcome, learn from it, and move on to the next.

If I remember correctly, there were about 250 attendees and 70 or so authors at the event. I shared the table with another author who, it turns out, was also a book signing virgin like me! We had a fairly steady stream of people come by. Many had seating charts, tote bags, and other things for us to sign, so we weren’t just sitting there twiddling our thumbs. I had 7 people pre-order books from me and all except one of them came to pick them up. Aside from that, I had a few people buy books on the spot (I forget how many, it’s becoming one big blur) and one of them was the author at the next table over who couldn’t resist picking up a copy of Wolfen. I think that might have been my favorite moment of the whole day.

On the whole, I did not sell out. But I definitely made an impression and I left the event with only half of what I’d brought in, and it would have been much less, if I hadn’t made a couple of mistakes.

Speaking of…

Lessons Learned

If you don’t plan on selling it or giving it out, don’t drag it along. 

I had brought a full set of my paperbacks as a display piece. They were an unnecessary weight I could have spared myself. My half table was such a small space I could only stand them up with their spines showing, which was useless. Besides, I already had all the book covers on my book lists.

If you bring it, sell it or give it out.

Very early on, I had someone stop by asking about a series of books I didn’t have in stock. Except I did, because I’d brought a backup copy for all my early pre-orders in case my luggage got lost. I totally forgot about it in the moment and let the reader walk away. I am still kicking myself for that. I ended up hauling that extra set back home.

Plan your inventory prudently.

One piece of advice I heard was to wait for pre-orders to come in and then double what those are as your inventory. That’s tough when you have a long backlist and not a lot of table space. Or when you get no pre-orders at all. Another piece of advice I heard was to bring 8-10 copies of each book. That seemed like a bit much to me. Some people say shorter novellas sell better, others that readers prefer full-length books. Several said to bring more of book 1 in the series.

What I can tell you is that when I put out a last minute notice about extra sets of a series of novellas, I got as many pre-orders in that one day as I got the previous 2 months. No idea why. But since the lost sale at the event was for this series, I think I should have stocked those. I sold 3 copies of book 1 of a series, and only 1 of book 2, so the part about bringing more copies of the first book actually checks out. As for novellas vs. full length book, I brought 4 copies of my longest book (almost 600 pages) and 3 of them sold at the event when no one had pre-ordered it. The companion novella that went with it only sold 1 copy. The 3 series starters were also full-length novels, but most of the pre-orders were for novellas, so the length of the book didn’t appear to make much of a difference.

Check your setup.

The damn trailer video is still pissing me off two days later. I spent 3 weeks working on it and was so excited to have something unique to draw attention to my station, and then I went and got it stuck on a tiny fraction which made it a moot point. I had 2 hours prior to the start of the event in which I had nothing to do. I could have taken 15 minutes to watch it loop and make sure it was working correctly.

Go big or don’t bother.

I still think the book trailers were a good idea. But the problem (besides the loop glitch) was that the tablet screen was too small to make an impression. I was thinking, if I do it again, I should bring my laptop and have it playing on that. The 14″ screen should show much better. But it does mean more weight to carry to and from the event. And if it gets damaged or stolen, I might cry.

Bring an assistant.

Luckily, I had one. My dad was a last minute addition to my plans, partly because he was so excited for my first ever author signing, and partly because he’d done something similar to this himself and knew I would need help. He wasn’t wrong. Even with only half a table, I still had a lot of stuff to carry, set out, and break down again. Having him with me meant I could bring my books along, rather than ship them ahead and pay a storage fee to the hotel. He gave me feedback on how everything looked, what I was missing, what I should be doing and wasn’t. Also, having a friendly face next to me helped relieve at least a little anxiety.

Be ready for various payment methods.

Most of the purchases I processed were with a credit card, and all of those were chip cards. Which makes me glad I ordered a chip reader in addition to my swipey credit card reader before the event. I don’t even know if the new chip cards have a magnetic strip anymore. But the reader I got worked brilliantly, and it made each transaction a breeze. I also had a supply of small bills for cash purchases. I didn’t need as much as I had, but I was glad to have it, just in case.

Beta test pricing.

Okay, so this wasn’t so much a mistake as it was a trial run which didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. I had really cool stainless steel dog tags made for these signings. They are book-specific, with a neat design, and a bit of heft to them. I’d done them before as giveaways and they were such a big hit I thought I would sell them this time around. Turned out, I set the price much too high. I only sold one. But I will say that one was very determined to buy. Had cash ready and waited for me to finish talking with someone else so she could get it.

The other thing I was hoping to sell were foldable tote bags. In retrospect, those would have worked much better as giveaways, and I did give one to everyone who bought anything from me, but I could have just handed them out at random. I brought way too many of them back home.

Extrovert like you’re being paid to do it.

I will admit this is not my strong suit. I’m not used to being the one to initiate conversation, and you kind of have to when you’re at an event like this. Since I have no basis for comparison, I can’t say I screwed up, but I definitely could have done better to engage the people who browsed by my table. I just don’t know yet how to strike the proper balance between making conversation and making a sales pitch.

It’s not a profit center, it’s a marketing event.

The most helpful thing my assistant (or, as I like to call him, Dad) said to me is that it’s not so important how many books you sell, but how many people leave your table knowing your name. If you’re doing an event like this, especially one you have to travel to, you can pretty much count on taking a financial hit. No matter how thrifty you are with your travel and setup, it’s still a big cost just to attend. Odds are, you will not sell out. Hell, odds are, you will not sell much at all. Go into it with that assumption and then ask yourself, “What should my main goal be?”

The main goal is to get your name out there. So, more than huge stacks of books, you need things people will want to take. Things that will remind them of you and your books. Things they won’t just throw away the moment they leave. If you’re handing out printed things like bookmarks or business cards, don’t cheap out. Make them count. Make them so beautiful and unique people will want to take them. Definitely have a printed book list. Mine were a big hit and the readers who took them were really appreciative and impressed.

And don’t forget newsletter sign ups! Offer an incentive like a free ebook or audiobook, and get those email addresses. That’s your golden ticket right there.

Give yourself time to throttle down.

This also wasn’t a mistake on my part but more of an “it is what it is” sort of deal. I had originally planned to fly back home the day after the event in the late afternoon. I’d planned for this by adding a late check-out to my hotel reservation. Unfortunately, my flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 6am that morning instead. I had no other choice but to take it, so I rushed through packing everything right after the event and going to bed early so I could wake up at 3am and go to the airport heading home. I was already exhausted from stressing over the event and the lack of sleep and crazy travel times didn’t help matters. I crashed hard when I got home and was still tired the next day at work. Next time, I think I’ll stay a bit longer, maybe take in the sights while I’m there, so it’s not such a big shock to my system.

What’s Next

My second book signing will be the Sweet as a Peach event in Cumming, GA on October 5, which is less than 3 weeks from now! If you’re in the area, come by and say hello, you can check for yourself what my setup looks like and whether I’ve improved on the last time. 😉 Also, if you are coming and planning to buy books from me… you know what I’m gonna say, right?…. Please use this handy dandy pre-order form to reserve your copy by September 17. I will not be stocking all of my backlist and the books I will have in stock will be limited quantities.

Hope to see ya there!

Continue Reading Lessons From A Book Signing

Why Self-Published Authors Are Amazing

If you’re following my blog, you’ve seen me post some rants about this or that. I do it to air out my own personal grievances, but also to shed some light on current events happening in the book world. Cathartic and educational. Win-win.

But today, I want to do something different. Today I want to tip my hat and give a nod to every self-published author out there, because the Indie community is a truly amazing and humbling place. Yes, it has its problems–all communities do–but on the whole, its members are some of the kindest, bravest, most supportive, most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Too often, the label of “Indie author” or “self-published author” still evokes the unfair stigma of being sub par, unworthy when compared to authors on the other side of that gilded line of traditional publishing. Today, I want to show you why that is just not true. I want to show you that Self-Published Authors are…

…Creative

It goes without saying that writing a story takes massive amounts of creativity, no matter how that story gets published. But the creativity of a self-published author goes beyond the story to everything around it. There are authors who make their own book covers, create their own marketing campaigns, even manufacture their own giveaway swag. The beauty of self-publishing is that there are no limits or restrictions on what we can do.

…Resourceful

When there’s no one to keep you on the straight and narrow, you have to forge your own way. That includes learning as you go, figuring out how things are done, and finding resources to do it. Publishing is an expensive business, and rare is the author with more than a shoestring budget. That makes self-published authors very good at forging mutually beneficial relationships, finding the best deals, and the least expensive (yet still just as effective) tools.

…Supportive

On the whole, self-published authors tend to view each other as colleagues, not competitors. They network, share recommendations, offer support, guidance, and encouragement, and even help each other promote each other’s books. What other industry do you know of where this is the norm?

…Entrepreneurial

Regardless of the way your books get out there, as soon as they do, you officially become a small business owner. But for self-published authors, that definition goes deeper and far wider. They are in charge of it all, from editing to intellectual rights management, and everything in between and beyond. That means an Indie author is a writer, a publisher, an accountant, a PR guru, and a public figure all at the same time. That’s a lot of hats to wear. But don’t they look fabulous?

…Trailblazers

Bypassing the traditional publisher gauntlet allows self-published authors to bring fresh, new ideas straight to the reader. They are on the bleeding edge of fiction, inventing and defining new genres, and bringing us amazing stories publishers never knew readers have been yearning for.

…Trend-setters

By virtue of necessity, self-published authors have to look beyond what is to what is possible. Being unfettered by a set of house rules, they are free to explore the possibilities, take risks, and discover new ways of doing things–and they share their discoveries with each other, and with traditionally published authors, as well.  They open doors few people knew even existed–including self-publishing itself. Let’s give credit where credit is due: A great many Indie authors chose this path not because they were rejected by publishers, but because they never wanted that approval in the first place. And many others chose to leave their publishers for the express purpose of publishing independently. This is not the course of last resort detractors would have you believe it is.

…Generous

Self-published authors have the freedom and opportunity to do things traditionally published authors simply cannot do. They can share as much of their new releases for “preview” as they like; set their own pricing to super low, even free; and give away as many book copies to as many people as tickle their fancy. In fact, the community is known for this more than anything else.

…Approachable

The great thing about bypassing the middleman (publishing house) is that it brings self-published authors in direct contact with their readers. Their success is directly dependent not just on how well they write, but how well they interact with their readers, which makes Indies the most welcoming and approachable of authors online, as well as in person.

…Nonconformists

Sometimes, rules are in place to protect the wrong interests. Sometimes, those rules need to be broken, and self-published authors aren’t afraid to band together, take a stand, and make their voices heard for the good of the whole ecosystem. Indies changed the face of the industry in a matter of a handful of years, and while publishing houses are still scrambling to adapt, Indies aren’t finished yet.

…Professional Storytellers

Emphasis on professional. That little detail tends to be conveniently overlooked whenever someone trash talks self-published authors. Are there bad apples in the bunch? Absolutely. The same is true for traditionally published authors. But look at the talents that, against all odds, had broken through every barrier, hit the bestseller lists and taken off like one of Elon Musk’s rockets. That is the standard all Indies are striving for. On the whole, when everything else is stripped away, an author is a story teller at heart, and their passion is to tell the best story they possibly can. The best part about self-published authors is that their story will be all their own, unfiltered, uncensored, and free of any cookie cutter standardization.

And for all these reasons…

If you haven’t read an Indie book, I highly recommend you give them a try. You may be pleasantly surprised. 😉

Continue Reading Why Self-Published Authors Are Amazing

Opinion: Author vs. Publisher Branding

I posted a question on my Facebook profile yesterday that I didn’t expect to get as much attention as it did. I am still getting and answering comments today, and it’s drawing me away from the novella I was dead set on writing today and into an internal debate I am slowly unraveling into something that might come close to a coherent opinion on the matter. The question was:

What is your opinion on authors having their own logos?

By “logos” I didn’t mean a specific, uniform way their name appears on their books, websites, and other marketing materials. I literally meant a symbol that represents the author’s brand (something like the Nike swoosh symbol) as separate from their publisher logo, or series logo. Opinions were fairly evenly split between those who believe it’s tacky, to those who believe an author’s brand is absolutely worth marketing and logos are a powerful way to do that. Some back-and-forth happened, and the discussion turned to traditionally published authors vs. self-published authors, and author brand vs. publisher brand.

Of course, every self-published author is, in fact, a publisher. Therefore, one argument stated, a self-published author can absolutely have a logo, because they are their own imprint, and just as valuable as any other publishing house out there, so they deserve to brand and market that.

I don’t disagree with any of that. However, I do draw a solid distinction for myself as a self-published author between what I do when I write, and what I do when I publish what I write, and that distinction dictates what it is I want to brand and market in the first place. What follows is my own personal opinion, not to be construed as word of law, or any sort of authority on the matter. I welcome any counter arguments and commentary in general. Please do chime in in the comments below.

Continue Reading Opinion: Author vs. Publisher Branding

Social Media Etiquette 102: The Personal Side

Hope you all enjoyed recess. Class is now back in session. This is Rant 2 of 2 on authors behaving badly on social media, and thank you again to everyone who wrote to me with your experiences and pet peeves. It’s really put this into perspective for me. If you missed Rant 1, check it out here: Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side.

And now we commence Rant 2 of 2…

Continue Reading Social Media Etiquette 102: The Personal Side

Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side

It started so innocently… A fellow author sent me a private message saying, “You should write a blog about people behaving unprofessionally on social media!” And because I have seen more of that than I ever cared to, I thought it’d be a great idea. But I didn’t want to be airing just my own grievances, so I asked for input from my network. Boy, that was one scary can of worms I opened… But it showed me that this is an important topic that no one seems to want to talk about because it might ruffle feathers. Well, I have my feather ruffler in hand and, by George, I am going to talk about this!

*slaps ruler against teacher’s desk*

Everyone back in your seats. That means you, Charlie. And Theresa, put that away; no one wants to see that. Joe, I swear, if you don’t pull your pants back up right now… That’s better. Boys and girls, class is now in session. And yes, all of this will be on the test.

Commence Rant 1 of 2…

Continue Reading Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side

So how are you doing?

Raise your hand if you look at your real time sales numbers multiple times a day.

Raise your hand if you actually do something with those sales numbers.

Educated guess: Most published authors who have access to real time sales data check it at least once a day. Very few of those authors will actually get something out of that data, aside from a momentary spike in blood pressure and a mood swing. This is a problem not just for authors, or business professionals, but for everyone in every walk of life. We are inundated with so much data on a daily basis we’re drowning in it. What we need to be doing is converting that data into information we can use in a practical way, and that’s tough to do when you don’t know where to start. So here’s where you start (brace yourself, this will be rather long):

Continue Reading So how are you doing?

On Get Rich Quick Schemes

I was scrolling Facebook yesterday and came across an ad promoting a workshop that will tell you how to write a book in 40 hours (not a typo) and double, quadruple, even decuple (multiply by ten) your income (also not a typo). For privacy reasons, I won’t share the actual post, but if you’re in any way involved in the writing world and active on social media, you’ve likely seen any number of these ads already.

Is what they’re promoting physically possible? Well, typing non-stop for 40 hours at the average typing speed of 40 words per minute, you would get about 96,000 words. This does not include typos, editing, backspacing, breaks, or any kind of thought or planning process. It is literally just typing words non-stop.

A couple things you can accomplish this way:

  • manually copy an existing manuscript
  • write absolute nonsense in 96,000 words

Given the parameters, I feel 99% confident that the only one making money will be the guy people pay to take this workshop.

Here’s the thing: Writing never was and never will be a get rich quick scheme. Writing a book takes time. It takes time to come up with an idea. It takes time to research it properly. It takes time to learn the technical aspects of how a book should look (to say nothing of the nuances of voice, style, etc.), and it takes time to properly convey all those ideas onto the page. This is as true for fiction as it is for non-fiction. Is it possible to churn out a draft in a relatively short amount of time? Absolutely. But the less time the first draft takes, the more time you’ll likely spend in rewrites and edits. Ask any writer out there how long it takes them to get a book from the “chapter 1” caption to final publishing. Depending on the book’s length, it’ll be anywhere between a few months to a couple of years, because that’s what it takes to put together a good quality book.

As for the doubling of income, I have to assume this was a hyperbole meant to heighten interest and get people signing up, because… no. Assuming an average eBook price of about $4.99, and an average royalty rate of 60%, let’s say, you’d have to sell about 1,400 copies every month consistently to make a decent living, and I’m here to tell you that anything having to do with the sale of a non-essential product will never, ever be consistent. And if you’re thinking to sell hard copies instead, since they are priced higher,  your profit margin on those will go from a few dollars per copy to a few cents. There’s a reason hard copies usually cost more: they come with an immense production cost that eBooks simply don’t have.

I’ve taken a number of these free seminars on “how to make money as a writer” and the three things they all have in common are:

  1. they are mathematically impossible, given the unit pricing required to sell a book of fiction (or even non-fiction)
  2. they require you to spend hundreds of dollars on advertising on a continuous basis.
  3. they usually end on a sales pitch, hawking additional, ridiculously expensive workshops on the secret sauce recipes the “teacher” only introduced in this free part. I’m talking to the tune of $100s to $1,000s for that inside access.

The truth is, no matter how they are packaged, no matter how cool the ad looks, or how enticing the charts and graphs look, all of the ads I have seen to date are nothing but a scam to get your money. Trust me, if there was a proven formula for success, everyone would be doing it, rendering it obsolete. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, and caution is always advised with “how to” courses. If it looks too good to be true, it is.

There are much better ways to spend your hard-earned money:

  1. Take subject-specific college courses related to your writing. History, mythology, science, political science, or music can all help for fiction books.
  2. Travel to the places you want to describe in your book to get first-hand knowledge of it so you’ll know how the air smells there after a storm, or what species of birds are the first ones to start singing in the morning. Those are the kinds of details that give a book depth.
  3. Study business, so you’ll better understand the money side of writing, and how to budget your money so you don’t go broke. This also includes marketing classes to learn about advertising, how to speak to your target audience, or even identifying your target audience.
  4. Hire a professional editor and cover artist to polish up your book to a shine. You know you will need them, so plan ahead of time and start saving for these expenditures while you’re writing your book. It’ll help you avoid sticker shock when the time comes.
  5. Learn to shop around for the things you need to spend money on. Try to avoid impulse buys. If you find one thing that would be great, odds are, there are ten more out there just as great or better, and probably cheaper, too.

There are also much better ways to spend your time:

  1. Work on your book. If you need a kick in the pants, find a writer’s group, or a writing buddy to get encouragement and support.
  2. Try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): A national challenge in November of every year to write 50,000 words in 30 days. A much more achievable goal than a whole book in 40 hours, don’t you think?
  3. Make friends with other writers, learn from their trials and hardships, get advice on things you’re struggling with (but don’t expect them to do the work for you).
  4. Build your platform early on by making a website and building up a social media following. This, too, will take time, and is absolutely necessary and worth it.
  5. Read. Read in your genre, and outside of it. Read the bestsellers, and the Indies. Read to enjoy, but also notice the nuances of what makes you like the book, and what makes you hate it. That’s how you learn your own style, and improve your own writing.

The information shared here is meant to be a guiding hand to new and aspiring authors, and is offered with a grain of salt and good intentions at no cost to you. However, if you found this post helpful and want to show your appreciation, a nice way to do it would be to buy one of my fiction books. Check them out on my author website at AlianneDonnelly.com. You might find something you like. 😉 Thanks for your support!

Continue Reading On Get Rich Quick Schemes