Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Have a Successful Book Launch: 5 Simple Steps

I spent this past weekend in Utah with the amazing Alyson Peterson, as she launched her debut middle-grade fantasy, Ian Quicksilver: The Warrior's Return, into the world. (I don't always travel halfway across the country when people's books launch. But Alyson said some really nice, mostly true, things about me in her Acknowledgements, and her husband makes excellent chocolate chip cookies, so... you know.)

Launching a book can cause a new author any number of sleepless nights and Xanax prescriptions. A veritable Who's Who of Worrisome Thoughts can threaten to monopolize one's internal dialogue:

"I just write stories. I have no platform."

"All the bookstores in the state will look at the sales figures from the launch. If it doesn't go well, they won't stock my book."

and the bete noir:

"What if no one comes?"

Alyson's launch was very successful: people came out in droves, she signed books for two hours' straight, and the bookstore manager was full of enthusiastic kudos when it was all over. Here's how she did it -- and how you can, too.

1.) Get the word out.

For weeks before the event, Alyson handed out invitations to friends and family, asking them to come and be a part of it.

Did everyone invited come? No. But many did. And they'd told people, who had told people...

Key Takeaway -- Remember: you're not begging people to buy your book. No one responds favorably to begging. Instead, you are inviting people to an event. And who doesn't love a party?

2.) Give people a reason to come.

In Alyson's book, Ian, the main character, discovers he is a member of an alien warrior race. He has a magical sword and he must learn how to use it. While researching swordfighting, Alyson began studying Mixed Martial Arts.

During the launch, Alyson had a katana sword on display. Every book purchased during the event got an entry in a drawing for the sword. At the end of the launch party, the lucky winner was announced.

Waking up the bookstore!
But that wasn't the only reason for people to show up. Since learning the skills that make one a warrior is an integral part of the book's plot, Alyson decided to stage an event that illustrate those skills in action. She invited the members of her dojo to put on a demonstration at the launch.

Drumming! Shouting! Back flips and handsprings! Swordplay! Board breaking! What a way to bring in a crowd. The Barnes & Noble cafe had never seen the like!

Key Takeaway: Instead of merely reading a few pages, find something in your book that lends itself to capturing your target market's attention. Does your main character have an interesting career or hobby? Bring in an expert and do a demonstration. Is your main character a fashionista? Hold a fashion show. Does your main character like to cook? Do a cooking demo (which lends itself to #3...)

3.) Give people a reason to stay.

Feed them.

Seriously. Have munchies. People will stay and chat if they're eating. Give them something to nibble on.

Key Takeaway: The masses require nourishment. Preferably something portable. Something that won't break your bank account. And something that won't make too much of a mess when dropped on the venue's floor.

Amy M. Hughes (l) and Alyson Peterson (r).
4.) Support others and they'll support you.

I happen to believe that a big part of being a successful author is supporting others who are climbing the same publishing ladder I am. That's one of the reasons I hopped on a plane and flew 1500 miles from home this weekend.

Alyson holds the same belief. Her book launch was scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. But a friend -- Amy M. Hughes -- had her book launch scheduled from 1 - 3 p.m. in a different town. So, of course, Alyson went.

Later, Amy returned the favor. Because authors are awesome that way.

Key Takeaway: Your writing career is not a sprint; it's a marathon. Surround yourself with people running in the same race. Encourage them to keep on keeping on.

5.) Be genuine and be grateful.

Thank the people for coming. Be happy to be there. Do not complain about how long it took you to find a publisher or an agent, or about the weather, or about the bookstore staff.

There will be snafus. You will forget a pen. Or tape. Or your posters will have a typo. Or the information in the ads announcing the event will be incorrect. Suck it up and soldier on.

Realize that every single person who attends could be doing something else -- mowing the lawn, watching "Entourage" reruns, finding a cure for recurring bunions. Everyone leads busy lives. The mere fact that people take the time out of theirs to attend your book launch should put tears of gratitude in your eyes and a song in your heart. Thank everyone who comes, whether they buy your book or not. And mean it.

Key Takeaway: Exude gratitude.

Bonus Tip: If all else fails, wield a big stick.
Though Alyson had no intention to do a demo herself, her sensei had other plans. With her two boys behind her, Alyson showed she knows what she's writing about.

Key Takeaway: This is your book launch! You worked hard for this moment. Enjoy it! Have some fun and make it an event to remember.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Listen to Your Mother: "Do You Know How Much Your Daughter Loves You?"

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of sharing a stage with a dozen talented writers, as we brought the inaugural show of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER to Southwest Michigan.  I am so grateful to Kim Jorgensen Gane for having the vision to bring the show here, and to her co-producers Meagan Francis and Beth Haire-Lewis, for putting on such a heartfelt production.

This was the piece I presented, which, according to my father, "made his eyes leak a little bit." Happy Mother's Day, Mom...

“I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot lately,” Mom says as I walk in the door. “You’d have liked her. She was here. You just missed her.”

“No, Mom,” I say in the tone of voice I’ve heard shrews use to neuter their husbands – rich with condescension, laced with exasperation. It’s a tone I never once heard her use on my father. I hate that tone. I try to sing a new song.

“Mom... Grandma couldn’t have just been here. She’s been gone a long time. Grandpa, too. Remember?”

Mom and me: I'm 2 weeks old.
Mom peers at me. Focused. Deliberate. Concentrating on remembering. Finally: “I know that.”

And she does know. For ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Then her eyelids start to close, like an owl in the daytime, blinding her to the present and returning her to her murky thoughts.

Long ago when I had more time than money, I bought a sweater and cross-stitched a floral design on the front of it as a Christmas present for Mom. The sweater wasn’t expensive. Though the needlework I added was involved, I enjoyed doing it because I knew my mother would like it. When she unwrapped the gift on Christmas morning, her joyful reaction made the extra effort I’d put into the stitching worthwhile.

To be honest, I didn’t think about the sweater much afterward. My husband and I returned to our home 500 miles away and picked up our routines where we’d left them.

About a year later, Mom related a conversation that she’d had with a colleague at work. When asked where she had gotten her sweater, Mom explained that I had done the design. Her co-worker examined the stitching closely, then said, “Do you have any idea how much your daughter loves you?”

Mom beamed as she told the story. But it made me wonder. Does my mother know how much I love her?

I remember “helping out” in the kitchen when I was too small to see over the countertop. Mom’s friends would shake their heads. How could she stand to bake with me in the way? She never listened to those who said she could get things done faster if I weren’t underfoot. Instead, she let me sift the flour and the soda, pack down the brown sugar, and measure spices. Today, my kitchen is one of my favorite places. I owe my love of cooking to my mother. Does she know?

One of Mom’s mottoes has always been: “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” I heard it every time I didn’t want to finish a project I’d agreed to do. I heard it every time I tried something and wanted to give up. Mom’s mantra has shaped my attitude toward work and toward myself. I owe my sense of commitment to my mother. Does she know?

My mother is a deeply spiritual person. Me? I still struggle with the idea of putting myself in the hands of Someone beyond me whom I can’t see or hold on to.

Shortly after she married, Mom chose to change churches, shifting from the denomination she and my father shared to a completely different theology. Now, more than half a century later, suffering from the debilitating effects of a serious fall last summer, compounded with Parkinson’s and dementia, she has remained firmly grounded in her faith.

In our little country church, Mom held a multitude of offices including organist, teacher, lay speaker, and treasurer. She arrived early and stayed late every week. And, when I lived at home, so did I. For years, I begrudged my attendance. Yet, Mom’s unshakable love for God led me to love him too. Does she know?

Mom and me a year later.
Does she know how fortunate I feel to have grown up in a loving home? How lucky I count myself to have had her and my father as parents? Their example as best friends and partners for the fifty-three years of their marriage has been a priceless foundation for my own.

Mom showed me how to disagree without anger, how to stand firm without defiance, and how to forge a vibrant love that does not fade with time. My relationship with my husband is stronger because my mother showed me that nothing on earth is better than a good marriage. I hope she knows.

Some days, Mom knows who I am. Some days...

On the days she doesn’t, she talks to me as if I am one of the aides in the elder care facility where she lives, or one of my school friends, or one of her friends from Pennsylvania. More and more, lately, she is unaware of what she doesn’t know.

And yet...

Mom still has her sweater. It remains one of her favorite things and it still looks great – after all this time. Even when she doesn’t know who I am, she knows I made it for her. When she wears it, she’ll point to the needlework and say, “Do I know how much my daughter loves me?” And I smile. Because I think she does.

I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot lately. You’d have liked her. She was here. You just missed her.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Confessions of a Working Artist: Q & A with Karina Dale

I am thrilled to introduce you to the amazing artist Karina Dale (or xKxDx, as she is known on various social media sites). 

In addition to creating the. most. amazing. illustrations -- often literally giving me visuals on characters that previously existed only in my head -- I love the niche she has carved for herself in the world of fandom.

After an in-depth discussion over how her approach to creating characters with lines was almost exactly the opposite of mine for creating the same characters with words, I knew I wanted you to meet her.  So...

Heeeere's Karina!

Q:  You are active on many social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler… How do you balance engagement with time management?

A:  I don't. I'm terrible at that. I'll engage a whole bunch, be funny, not post a lot of art or anything, then forget it all exists for a week. I do things exactly how all the social networking experts say you're not supposed to, but somehow, people stick around. Time management is literally the bane of my existence. Falls right behind getting old and getting sick!

I try my best to weigh my work-a-holic tendencies with having a little fun and hanging out with my friends, but most everyone knows that hanging out with me usually means competing with whatever project I'm working on. I think most people like to see the stuff I make a lot more than they want to hear my witty one-liners on Twitter anyhow. I'm cool with that. I know what I'm good at!

Q:  What are your preferred subjects for illustration? What is your preferred medium? Why?

A:  My preferred subject matter is people. All kinds.

I love diversity and I try my best to celebrate it. I like characters that don't already have a face, or characters who are allowed to change, depending on who is doing the drawing. Books, comic books, movies, television, etc.

I love drawing the people I know, but there's very little room for interpretation. As a realist I'm gonna draw my buddy looking like my buddy, down to the detail. But the Winter Soldier, let's say, he could be Sebastian Stan as cast by MCU, or my husband, or maybe Brock O'Hurn. Who knows?

As far as mediums go, I prefer digital art by necessity. I'm allergic to plastics and petroleum products. So, almost all paints, color pencils, watercolors, charcoal and graphite fixatives, etc. are out. I like digital art but it sucks sometimes not being able to actually hold your finished product until the printer spits it out.

I'm not really that great with digital mediums specifically, though. I don't use Photoshop. I use a painting emulator called SAI. I mostly use it as a direct replacement for traditional media, which is why my art often looks traditionally made. I just treat my computer like a sketch pad or a canvas. It probably takes a lot more time than it should, but I like the process of sketching. I've been doing it my whole life. It's what I'm good at.

A portion of a Karina Dale character illustration
for KNIGHTFALL, my novel-in-progress.
Gorgeous art: Karina. Watermarks that obscure it: me.

Q:  What is your process? 

A:  I'm freelance, totally independent, so a lot of the time my process involves getting comfy, putting my reference pictures on my TV and drawing blue, red, and black lines until I don't hate it. There's a lot of that sort of thing recorded over at my livestream. You (Ami) have gotten a lot of my unfinished sketch art and basically it's just refined black lines on a white background. (IMHO "refined black lines" is an understatement. A.H.) There's never a lot of process to that. Keeping it simple gives you more freedom to change stuff and make it cooler.

After sketching I sometimes color. That's a process, but I've worked the last year on simplifying that as well. Now coloring works a lot like sketching for me. Instead of a bunch of complicated work, I lay down a base layer, a lot of color, and blend it together until I think it looks right. You can't just do that sort of thing right out the gate though. It's a learned skill, just like sketching.

Q:  What are some common misconceptions people have about artists?

A:  That we're cool, or super excited about all the things we draw. It's work a lot of the time.  I like work though, and I also like when people buy my things. As a freelancer, it's very validating to sell all the pretty things. Basically, if I like a thing and the rest of the world likes that thing too, I'll draw it a lot. It does not mean I'm super, intensely into it. I'm weird, so a lot of the stuff I like falls on blind eyes. You won't see a ton of obscure subject matter being posted in my streams.

Also, I am not cool. I have a house, a partner, some dogs, a few bad habits and an ugly yard. Talking to me for an hour might be entertaining, but living a day in my life is a snoozefest. Contrary to popular assumption, I don't have the energy to be cool! Regardless, a lot of people say that to me when they meet me and I legitimately have no idea what to say except 'thanks.' I have a few stories about being an interesting human being but most of them happened a decade ago. Pro tip: compliment my line quality, then we can talk.

Q:  So: Sterek. Discuss.

A:  You wanna open that grab bag of chaos? Fine, we'll go there.... Man, I hope my consistently jovial attitude in this interview comes across well. I'm funny. I'm always funny, except when I'm not.

I digress. Sterek. Yeah.

So, I had a pretty nice career going in pin-up and promotional art, but the ingrained misogyny and patriarchal, racist, sizist, ageist, transphobic (etc.) bullshit was like a lake of oily muck you could never wash off. Our general audience was that asshole, entitled white dude with all the money to drop on shows and merch. It sucked. I loved my fellow creators, but the daily struggle of dealing with consumers of pin-up and similar art made life inside rigorous.

One day I was enjoying my moving wallpaper (aka Color Television Shows via Internets) while I was drawing and this moment of curiosity struck me: does anyone else think this big, burly dude and this weird skinny kid in this strange 1980's movie to television remake have real chemistry? or is it just me? Did Mtv do it on purpose? I had to know! Back then they were comedy gold, and it actually read like a slow burn gay pairing. I was impressed with Mtv's bravery and writing. I went online and looked it up. Within a couple days the Sterek fandom sucked me into their world with a kind if enthusiastic happiness I have never seen before.

It was a bunch of ladies, queer kids, and miscreant youths. I had finally found my people! I quit pin-up and started doing fandom art instead. I had an idea I might like to do concept art, but that would mean going back to work for the privileged dudes with money, so nah. Thanks anyways. I'll stick around and make fandom happy. Take the jobs I like from people I respect. Sure, I like Sterek okay. They're cute if you ignore the flaming balls of crazy the network decided to throw everyone, but eh, that's what I'm for. I'm happy to bring alternative versions of reality to life to make all my friends happy. It's like my own personal form of queer activism.

Sterek inadvertently changed my life. Maybe it was my attention to detail and curiosity that pushed me there, but the fandom kept me around. They've been amazing. I can't thank them enough.

Q:  When you teach artists’ workshops, what are some of the most common things you see other artists struggle with — and what suggestions do you have for them?

A:  Fuel for motivation and the self worth needed to feel like your creations are worth creating. If I could bottle and sell that, I'd make millions. I spend hours talking to people about how to build up the positive inner voice and ignore the outer negative voices. I wish I was better at giving people those tools honestly.

Also, how elitists and ableists ruin art done for enjoyment. AKA not getting paid, just doing it for fun. If anyone ever tells you 'you cheated, that's not art,' they're a jerk and their opinion is null and void by default. More people need to understand both sides of saying something that destructive about art someone has created purely for enjoyment.

(A.H.  Karina recently taught an artist's class which included the Most Excellent Handout Ever, with regards to dealing with joysuckers, trolls, and naysayers.)

Ellie, from THE LION'S CLUB, portrait in progress.
Q:  What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

A:  Practice for yourself, be kind to your hands, and find really great cheerleaders.

Q:  You consistently advocate for artist credit and don’t hesitate to call out online offenders who post art without crediting the source. Any advice to other creatives for balancing vigilance with maintaining creativity?

A:  It's nearly impossible. Every hour I spend filling out DCMA forms is an hour lost creating. People are welcome to repost my art on platforms that don't support reblogging my original post. All they have to do is tag back to me. Other artists have other rules, but those are mine. For some unknown reason these kids would rather steal a bunch of art and piss the artists off than network and make friends. I don't understand it at all.

Of course, most working artists and fan artists want exposure. Their audience is great, please, by all means, I invite them to post, if they credit and tag back. For some reason there's this new psychology of online attention seeking that doesn't include sharing credit. They'd rather steal and watch their numbers go up, like a video game, than make friends and be part of a team. /end rant.

I try not to spend so much time being an online vigilante now days. All those people end up getting their accounts deleted anyways. They have the half life of any virus. If you don't want to be that guy, make friends, ask, respect content. It's all part of the new online language. The internet is growing up just like we are; one day, hopefully, these ideas will be a generally accepted online social practice.

Q: So, where can people find you?


I'm KarinaDale or xKxDx almost everywhere!

A.H. See? See why I wanted you to meet her? I am so grateful to Karina Dale for graciously agreeing to do this interview. I trust you found it as inspiring as I did.