Tag Archives: indie author

Working the Table: Getting Started as an #Indie at Conventions

Someone asked me recently how much money it really costs to get ready to work your first convention. What’s a good level of investment to plan on fielding for that first show? They asked me because I do this a fair amount, and have even co-authored a book on the subject.

Shameless self-promotion works! Sometimes.

I gave an off-the-cuff estimate of $200-300, then started thinking about the real answer. What’s the minimum needed to work a table, and what’s the minimum needed to be successful working a table?

The minimum expenses:

  1. Books. It’s challenging to sell books that you don’t have on hand.
  2. The table fee.
  3. Transportation costs–gas, parking, airfare, etc.
  4. Food.
  5. At least one pen–for signing your books.
  6. Something to hold cash and some bills to make change with.

These six things are the absolute minimum. At many shows, you’ll be given a table with skirting and sign attached to the front with your name in block letters. You can get by with this if you’re on a tight budget. New vendors manage with this all the time. This minimalist option lets you squeak by on little more than the cost of your books. Your setup and teardown time will be short, and you’ll have little to transport.

To really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more:

  1. Some sort of promotional handout–bookmarks and business cards are always winners. An informal poll of other authors reveals these two are the best bang for the buck in promotion. This type of thing is cheaper per piece when you buy in bulk, so get as many as you can afford at once.
  2. A way to accept credit cards–I use and recommend Square, which requires either a data connection or internet on the device you attach it to.
  3. A reseller permit, which requires a business license in your state. This allows you to buy copies of your own books without having to pay sales tax for that transaction. (Obviously, if your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license).
  4. Some sort of large promotional graphic thing with your name and/or your series name. Many authors and artists get a retractable banner to put behind their chair and a second banner for the front of the table. Other options include a table banner of 1.5-3 feet in height, a backdrop with a frame, a custom printed table cloth, and a banner with a stand. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
  5. A trade show tablecloth like this one. This isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional.
  6. Book stands like these or these. I highly recommend these two types as cheap, reliable, inconspicuous, stable, and easy to both use and store.
  7. Some method of transporting your stuff between the table and your vehicle. I use one of these, but it’s overkill if you only have a few titles. A foldup handcart like this one or this one is a good starting option, depending on how you store your books.
  8. A plastic bin or similar container to hold pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.

Keep in mind that the more you add to your display, the longer setup and teardown will take. At most shows, I have a complex display with ~40 titles that takes 45-60 minutes for both setup and teardown, and it takes me, on average, three trips to my car. By contrast, the minimalist with 1-3 titles needs 5-10 minutes, and an average indie with 3-5 titles will need about half an hour.

In total, aside from the table fee and transportation, a good, solid start needs about $400 for books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. If you can catch sales for banners and similar items, you can keep the costs lower. The good news is that many of these items won’t need to be repurchased for every show, so your costs come down to books, table fees, bookmark/card replacement, and transportation for subsequent shows.

Good luck, and don’t forget to order your books well in advance!

The Dreaded Blurb #amwriting #writingtips

Most indie authors hate writing the sales copy for their books. Alas, we have to do it anyway. Part of being an indie means taking a DIY approach to publishing. Traditional publishing houses have a staff of people who take a basic list of facts from the book and churn out sales copy. Indies do the same, only at lower speed.

There are authors who like writing blurbs. I’ve met a few. Every bunch has its weirdoes, and all of us creative types are already weird to begin with. I’m not one of these individuals. I hate doing it.

What is a blurb? It’s a bit of text designed to make you want to buy a book. Authors spend hours poring over 3-10 sentences to tweak them for maximum impact without giving away the story while remaining true to said story. We take classes on this, float them with our fellow sufferers, and think hard about hitting things. Then we give up, barf the stuff out because we have to, and move on.

At this point, I’ve written or helped write blurbs for 20+ different books, stories, and anthologies. Some are great. Others are… I’m just not going back and fixing them, okay? I have other things to do and blurbs suck.

Why do we hate them?

  1. I’m a fiction writer, Jim. Not a copywriter.
  2. I just spent 3-9 months writing and revising this book, and now you want it condensed into a snappy few paragraphs? *rage-filled bellow*
  3. “Buy this book, it’s awesome.” doesn’t work. Damn you, reader. Damn you.

Some tips to help you get your blurb going:

  1. Make a list of all the words that might apply to your book’s theme, plot, and characters. Include nouns (proper or not), adjectives, and verbs.
  2. If your book has more than one main character, pick the most important one or two. If you pick two, be aware most readers will expect a romantic plot or subplot involving them, unless you make it clear that won’t happen. Mention they’re siblings, bitter enemies, or whatever.
  3. Avoid the verb “to be”. In fiction writing, you generally avoid this verb anyway, right? (Hint: you should. Only use it when there’s no better verb to express something.) This verb is nothing more than an equal sign. Your blurb needs action words loaded with meaning.
  4. If you write for an age category that isn’t adults, the main character needs their age stated. Such as, “Sixteen-year-old Claire wants her father back.” If, instead, you write for adults, do not include the age of your protagonist. Likewise, if you write about non-human beings, age is irrelevant.
  5. Go to Amazon and browse to the appropriate subcategory for your book. Read some blurbs. Get the feel for how they sound and look.
  6. Read this: http://graemeshimmin.com/writing-a-logline-for-a-novel/
  7. Use the logline from Step 6 and your word list as a starting point. Barf up a couple of paragraphs. Try to hit about 200 words. Anywhere between 100 and 400 is fine, but 200 is a good length. Avoid giving away spoilers, twists, or the plot. Don’t summarize. Instead, set the stage. Who is the protagonist? What are the stakes of their journey? What’s super-cool about that journey? What kind of book is it (mention the fantasy kingdom, the dragons, the space station, the backwoods resort, or whatever to give readers an extra clue about the genre)? Anything that happens in the first 3-4 chapters is fair game, but don’t bring up stuff from later in the book.
  8. As with all writing, let someone else read it. Preferably, ask veteran indie authors to read it and offer suggestions.
  9. Revise it 1-500000 times.
  10. Yay! You’re done!

Even though this is a short piece of work, I recommend setting aside an entire day to get to Step 8. Writing a blurb is like writing poetry, in that every word has to be deliberate and packed with meaning. It also needs to sell the book, which is hard work when you normally write fiction. Take your time and get feedback, even after you’ve been doing it for a while.

#CapitalIndieBookCon: A Book Fair in Olympia

This Saturday, July 16, 2016, my friends and I are holding a book fair in Olympia, WA, specifically in the Longhouse at Evergreen State College. If you’re nearby and don’t have transportation, bus routes 41 and 48 both go there and run normally during the entire duration of the fair: 11am-7pm.CIBCFlyer1

We’re hosting over 40 regional indie authors for the day, and it’s not restricted to any particular genre. You can find romance, fantasy, science fiction, children’s, horror, chick lit, literary, and more at the fair. This is a chance to meet authors from the Pacific Northwest who will be happy to sell signed copies of their books, and many of them have one or more bestselling titles, either on Amazon or the USA Today lists.

If you’re not in the area, please share this information with your online friends. Some may know local or regional folks who might be interested.

How to Write a Review

Because I, like many indie authors, need book reviews to prosper, it’s crossed my mind to wonder why so few readers write them. There are lots of theories.

1.Readers are lazy and/or can’t be bothered to take the time. They read books, toss them aside, and move on.

2. Readers don’t think their opinion matters; the pros do the reviewing, and no one cares what anyone else thinks.

3. Readers aren’t sure what to put into a review.

As for #1, there’s nothing I can do except implore you to reconsider. When you like a book, the only way other people get to share your joy is if you tell them about it. Likewise, when you hate a book, you can help others avoid inflicting the pain on themselves.

With #2, I’ve written about this before. There are professional reviewers out there, sure. They read what the Big 5 publishers give them. That’s it. The ones that lower themselves to the level of reviewing indie books require payment to spend their time doing so. That’s where you, the ordinary reader, come in. You read it, you have an opinion, and there are probably at least ten thousand people who will agree with exactly what you liked or hated about any given book. It’s a small way to help your fellow readers find something awesome or steer clear of something awful.

The issue then becomes #3: what the heck do you put in a review? If you were a writer, you’d be writing your own books, after all, and if you had the skillz to be a pro reviewer, you’d do that. Fear not. It’s not that tough.

What makes a good review?

It’s about how the book made you feel. Did you race through the story, eager to discover what happened next? Did the characters feel like real people? Would you pick up the author’s next book? Was there any point at which you thought something along the lines of ‘that’s just plain ridiculous’? Were there editorial problems bad enough that they distracted from the story (typos, confusing turns of phrase, continuity breaks, etc.)? How seriously did it take itself? Does it delve into controversial topics?

The answer to every single one of the above questions is good to put into a review. If you read my reviews, you know I take a little time and put some effort into it. No one is required to do that. A few simple statements suffice. For example, with my most recent review, of Strike, I had a few hundred words to say about it, but I could just as easily have put the following:

Entertaining, but a little empty. Not enough happened, and most of the characters didn’t feel real. Campy, cute, and a straight line from start to end. I liked it without being awed by it.

That doesn’t quite say all the same things, but it gets the message across. A review like that helps other readers set expectations. It sounds like a light-hearted summer beach read, probably best suited for those who aren’t looking for lots of depth and complexity. Which is useful information.

That’s it. Give others a hint of what to expect, and say what you think. Be brief if you want. Just please, please say something.