6 Things I’ve Learned By Attending Book Launches

This week, I managed to go to the book launch of “Struggling With Serendipity“, a memoir from a blogger I’ve been following for 3 years.

In the past, I’ve made it to book launches at conventions (The Perils of Prague and TV Gods) and I volunteered at the book launch of The Cursed Child (mostly because I missed the original Harry Potter launch parties and wanted to see what one might have looked like).

I’ve attended book signings — for authors AND web comic artists. And while lower key, these have some overlap.

Some were book signings with a reading first, some were book signings with actors and performances, some were open room parties with snacks and a credit card machine if you wanted to buy, and some were fun and games with the books off to the side, waiting for you to feel obliged to at least check out the reason for the event.

No two launch parties have been the same, but there are usually some overlaps.

1 – You Need To Advertise

If people don’t know it’s happening, they can’t come.

2 – Pick A Good Location

Pick a location that will appeal to your audience (and a good time of day)

  • If the story is based in your hometown, you’re going to have some local appeal there.
  • If your fanbase is full of people who love conventions, have your book launch at a convention.
  • If your book is for kids, have it at a kid-based festival, where they’re already going. Or at a school book fair.

3 – Be Prepared To Extrovert

If you can’t do it all yourself, bring backup. You want to be able to welcome people in, or call bypassers over (in a friendly, but not aggressive manner. Especially in a dealers’ room, you don’t want to tick off your neighbors).

You want to put out a warm and welcoming atmosphere that makes people comfortable asking the question, “so, what’s your book about?”

And?

You’ve got to be able to answer that, in one sentence or less, in such a way that more-people-than-not will want to know more.

4 – Do Something

You can’t just show up with a book, at a book launch, and expect to sell. Otherwise, you might as well just be a seller. What makes this a LAUNCH?

You can have free snacks or cake! You can have swag (magnets, bookmarks, etc).

You can have a raffle for a free copy!

You’re probably going to want to read an excerpt from your novel. Have a section — preferably near the beginning if it’s a novel — that requires minimal explanation. Best are scenes with dialogue, world building, and maybe even some action.

If you’re selling your book, be sure to offer to sign it! Maybe even personalize it. [If there’s a huge crowd, have paper for people to write their names on, so you can spell them right].

5 – Bring Your Friends and Family

Some of you might have the mistaken impression that your friends and family aren’t ‘real’ fans, they’re obligatory fans, and that you have to have strangers there to endorse you.

LIES!

People are busybodies and herd animals. If we hear someone else being excited about something, we’ll probably take a look.

I’ve seen book signings, down around the corner from the actual event, where fans had trouble finding them. If you’re sitting quietly at a table, people might not realize something’s going on.

If I had nightmares, I’d have them about book signings where no one shows up.

So? Bring your own party!

Either you have company while you’re stuck at a table. Or you have enthusiastic fans who can talk you up and run for drinks, pens, and your backup box of books.

Let your friends and family fete you! But if it’s open to the public, make sure you’re welcoming, without a cliquish vibe.

6 – Bring Your Own Supplies

Make sure you have everything you need!

  • A box of your own books (small or large, you should at least have some on you)
    • Even if your book launch is at a bookstore, sometimes the shipment doesn’t come in. Sometimes, they sell out. Having backup helps keep things less stressful for everyone.
  • Quick drying pens (or markers — whichever you prefer). With backup ones, in case one dies.
  • Business cards

Next? Things that can make a book launch go better

  • Swag – bookmarks, postcards, pens, magnets, whatever
  • A banner and/or table cloth
  • A candy bowl (for guests) — they usually feel obligated to at least HEAR your pitch if they snag a chocolate
  • Your own drink and snack — talking is thirsty work.

Plus, if you’re doing your own sales:

  • A decent amount of change for the standard ATM $20
  • A credit card reader
  • A spare battery pack for your phone

As you should know, I’ve never actually held my own book launch, I’ve just been taking notes from those I’ve made it out to.

I like to attend the book launches for people I know or read. I want to encourage them! And… I want some good karma saved up for when it’s my turn.


If you’ve attended — or HELD! — a book launch, let me know!

What do you like?

What do you hate at book launches?

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Strength Isn’t Just For The Strong

At WorldFantasyCon, I attended a panel by this same name. Going into the panel, I expected a discussion of different types of strengths being compared to the default of physical strength. Instead, the panel veered into magical strength and stayed there.

Defining Strength

Of course, we addressed the titular topic, but the conversation just kept swaying magical.

Strength can be just an overwhelming level of power. But, to use one’s strength to accomplish one’s goals of any type is a form of competence. Be it physical, mental, mystical, or magical, without competence you end up with more of a firestorm than a laser.

Things Magic Can Represent

Magic can just be the extraordinary, but often in fantasy, it’s a way of discussing real-world issues without bringing all the baggage that its real-world counterpart has accumulated.

  1. The hubris of the human spirit
  2. It’s often an allegory for privilege or power
    1. In worlds where magic is bad – the main character is often non-magical
    2. In worlds where magic is good – the main character is often magical

Ways Magic Can Influence A Society

When certain people have power that others don’t have access to, that’s going to disrupt the social order. Just like any other sort of wealth or power.

  1. Innate magic leads to a more stringent class hierarchy
  2. Gained or earned magic tends to be in worlds with greater social mobility
  3. Availability of magic determines if it’s rare or commonplace — expensive or cheap.
  4. If magic is inherent in a place or object, that gives power to those who possess that place/object (ley lines/hubs, Dune’s dust…)

Tropes For Different Strengths

There are a lot of tropes when it comes to giving characters strengths and powers. Some are more overdone than others.

  1. Magic users are seen as more intelligent
  2. Magic types as innately light or dark
  3. Magic as a tool
  4. Magic based societies not developing more mechanical technology alongside it
  5. Using an outsider or non-magical person to introduce us to the magical world
  6. Using magic to solve everything
  7. Giving poor characters fewer skills, rather than different ones
    1. Try having a farmboy where his farming skills come in handy
  8. ‘Leveling’ the main character up everytime there’s a new boss

Types of Strengths For Villains

Heroes aren’t the only ones with strengths. Any respectable foe needs to have some strengths of their own.

  1. Some villains share the main character’s strengths… but let their moral convictions prevent them from doing the right thing or rationalize their way into the wrong thing.
  2. Some villains have good — or at least understandable motives — but their methods and the lengths they go, using their strengths to achieve their objective cross the line into monstrous.
  3. Some villains are the protagonist of their own story. The strength of their moral convictions — like Magneto in the X-Men. He might be on the wrong side, but I can’t say he’s wrong.

What sort of strengths do you have? Your core competencies?
What about your main characters and your villains?
Do they balance each other?


The panelists were Fonda Lee, Carol Cummings, Marissa Lingen, and Rhiannon Held.

Using Unsafe Places To Propel Your Characters Forward

Returning to share notes from yet another World Fantasy Con panel: Unsafe Places and Why Characters Go There (see Gender 401 and Writing as Sanctuary, for other panels). The panelists were Ysabeau Wike, Nina K. Hoffman, Rajan Khanma, Joe Haldeman, and Suzy Charnas.

I expected this panel to be about the journey troupe – stories following those who chose to stand up and go, not the ones who are reasonable and stay home. But, the panel itself ended up being more of a discussion on how to use unsafe places to propel the story forward.

What is an Unsafe Place?

Just because a place is safe for one person, doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone. Places can be unsafe due to the environment itself, or because of the people in the place.

Sometimes? Home is the unsafe place. And it can be unsafe because of external factors, or because of internal ones.

According to Charnas, when fate is against you, no place is safe. And old age is a very unsafe place.

Finding the Conflict That Initiates the Story

When you begin a story, you should make clear what is missing in the main character’s life — or at least, what they THINK is missing.

Often, the strongest stories are about the true thing that is hidden. In those cases, the missing thing identified at the beginning is simply a symptom, not the cause of the conflict.

It’s okay if you don’t know what the true cause is when you start writing the story. Writing can be a search process, a way of finding your way out of the dark. WARNING: If you go into the story with an agenda, stories often come out rather contrived. Strive to avoid that.

Sometimes, the unsafe thing didn’t exist prior to the story’s start. It can be that the world changed and became unsafe for your character.

When The Conflict Is Internal

The internal conflict can either be a mental health issue, or an uncontrolled ability (like magic). It can be an internal need — to control one’s temper, to belong, to be loved. These are the things that make characters relatable and human.

When The Character Doesn’t See It Coming

Betrayal — when the main character thinks they’re safe, but they’re not.

The Joy Of YA

The joy of YA is that kids or teens will defeat problems long after the adults have resigned themselves to a world where the problems are insurmountable.

What Happens Next?

If you need to enhance conflict you can always limit resources. Be it allies, money, magic, or time.

Once you’ve addressed that first conflict — to fix the thing that was making your character unsafe — the main character usually finds something else they need to do — some new issue that’s often the consequence of the first fix.

And that’s it. That’s all the panel had time to discuss. Defining, exploring, and exploiting unsafe places to drive a plot forward.


If you’ve written a story, what was the factor that made your character’s space ‘unsafe’?

If you’re not a writer, share the factor that made a space unsafe for one of your favorite books.

Writing As Sanctuary

I know it’s been a while, but now that I made it through November, I’m back to sharing my panel notes. For World Fantasy Con, some of the panels turned more into suggested reading lists, but for now, I’m going to go through the other panels, in the order I experienced them.

I attended “Writing As Sanctuary” at World Fantasy Con. I went into this panel expecting to hear stories of authors using their writing as either escapism or as a tool to process stressors in their lives. Escapism either as a distraction from real-world issues, OR as a way to create a new world, with those issues fixed.

The actual discussion was a lot more nuanced, but less focused.

The panelists were Jacob Baugher, JD Blackrose, JL Gribble, and K. Ceres Knight, moderated by Anna La Voie.

The discussion started off exploring the motivations behind people’s writing and the reoccurring themes they explored, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Most wrote for themselves — but with the intent of publication — seeking that external validation. Only a few used their writing to explore alternative choices — either personally or historically.

Themes They Found In Their Writing

Some writers write themes explicitly into their work. Others only recognize it when they begin editing. And sometimes? You only recognize your themes when the same issues keep coming up, novel after novel. Here were some of the themes the panelists found in their writing – intentionally or not.

  • Non-dystopian post-apocalypse
  • The Holocaust
  • Mother-daughter relationships
  • Cyberpunk — in order to have control over their world

Which is better: To Be Writing or To Have Written?

It’s a reality for many of us writers — the process itself can be agony. I found it inspiring to hear how much of a struggle even published writers still find it. And how many also resort to procrasti-cleaning!

  • Some, like Baugher, were shocked to learn people could enjoy writing. He forces words out and is working on trying to change his own mindset.
  • Sometimes, real-world tragedies strike too close to home and you can’t write. Blackrose spoke of knowing when to push through, and when to step back. Then, when it’s time to return to the keyboard, she aims for just 500 words to regain her momentum.
  • Writing a novel is intimidating and that can make it hard to start. But 30,000 sounds a lot more doable. You can approach writing like Blackrose. She just wrote 30,000 words four times, and she had a novel.
  • Gribble uses gamification to get her words in. She wrote her 3rd novel, just using 5-minute sprints. Her best writing day was also the day she washed all of the windows.
  • Many of us, like Knight, love writing — when inspired. But most of her writing is deadline based.
Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Do you find sanctuary in a private journal?

Some writers swear by them. I know many writers who collect journals by the trunkful. But, advice doesn’t always sync up with reality so I was curious how these writers would answer. How useful are they in practice?

  • Some, like Gribble, find them a waste of words. Why journal when you could be writing paying work?
  • Some use it for free writing when the words just won’t flow.
    Baugher uses this process about once a week as a sort of 10-minute warm-up for his novel writing — his is mostly profanity.
  • Blackrose doesn’t journal per se, but she blogs…
  • Major life events can make journaling helpful. Knight only found herself journaling when she going through her divorce.
  • Some use it to manage stress. La Voie only journals sporadically but she finds it helps with her anxiety.

Knight and I agree: no writing is ever a waste. You’re always learning, always practicing.

What works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for you. Journal only if you’re actually getting something out of it.

Do you have your own writing sanctuary?

Now, me? I have a desk in a library alcove off my family room. But ever since I got a laptop, I find myself on my couch for most of my writing, with the occasional restaurant-based write-in. Not that I haven’t snuck words in at work or on my smartphone. There’s a reason I use GoogleDocs — it can auto-sync, you can use it offline, and it’s available for free on all my devices. I might not be the Google fangirl I was before they dropped 8 of the products I’d adopted… but some habits die hard.

But, I always find it fascinating to learn where other writers work.

  • Some, like Knight, can write anywhere that’s relatively quiet.
  • Some, like Gribble have home offices. But?
    • She NEVER uses it to write in.
    • She spends most of her time in Starbucks, on her couch, or the counter in her kitchen.
    • Gribble WILL, however, edit her writing in that perfect home office.
  • Some, like Blackrose, will write anywhere — even at her day job when things are slow.
  • Some libraries, like Blackrose’s, have writing centers you can use
    • On Sundays, she has permission to use the Writer-In-Resident’s office — it makes her feel like a ‘real’ writer!
  • And some have home offices they actually write in!
    • Baugher came home from a convention and found his wife had turned their 2nd bedroom into an office for him.

Do you use writing as an escape from life?

This question could have gone in so many directions, but somehow we got back to procrasti-cleaning again. As a procrasti-cleaner myself, I was happy to be in such good company. 

  • You can use laundry to avoid writing like Blackrose
  • You can use writing sprints as breaks from chores like Gribble
  • Or!
  • You can leave the house to go write, so you can avoid laundry altogether, like Knight.

How much do you reread before you restart your writing?

Personally, I only skip back a paragraph or two and then push on from there. I keep waiting for there to be a right answer to this. But of course, with all things writing related, it’s a matter of preference.

  • Some read just the start of the current scene, like Gribble.
  • Some, like Baugher, like to leave notes or hints for what’s going to happen in the next scene.
  • Some reread it all.
  • Some, like Blackrose, use the first 7,000 to 15,000 words as a sort of giant outline, and then fill in.
  • Some write in layers. First getting the action out and the plot, then coming back and filling in the descriptive narrative, like Knight.

Critiques That Made You Regret Sharing Your Writing

Even if writing isn’t your sanctuary, it can be scary to share your words and thoughts with the world. And sometimes, critics can be harsher than they know.

For Baugher’s first writing workshop, for his first critique ever, another writer told him, “Stop writing now — this sucks!”

One writer’s mother doesn’t do fantasy, and after they opened up and shared their novel, the response was, “how do you think of these things?”… and not in an awed sort of tone.

Gribble once had a critic complain about the orgy. One problem? Her novel contains ZERO orgies…

Knight once watched a teacher lay into a fellow classmate for half-assing the assignment. Which, not only was discouraging for the student in question, but also, I’d imagine, inhibiting the other students from trying new things.

Blackrose once wrote a Seders in Space humor piece, pulling from her own experiences. A non-Jewish friend hated it and felt it mocked the Jewish stereotypes. Her Jewish friends and family loved it.


And the two final questions from the panel? The answers were in unison.

How does marketing interfere with the sanctuary of writing?

A Lot.

and

Do you write as a sanctuary for your readers?

YES.

So, a bit more of an exploration of their lives as writers, but altogether a panel I enjoyed.


Do you use writing as a sanctuary?

Do you use books as a sanctuary? What are some of your favorites?

4 Things I Learned About Writing Memoirs

Part 1 |

Write By The Rails’s Back on Tracks – Writer’s Workshop – Fall 2018

Now that I’ve recovered from the back-to-back weekends of workshop and writing convention, I can start sharing the notes I took! Today, I’m starting with the notes from the Write By The Rail‘s break out session on memoirs.

I’ve never been tempted to write a memoir, but Nancy Kyme, the author of Memory Lake, shared with us her experience and made me realize it’s not as intimidating as it sounds.

First off, we need to define what is a memoir and what makes it different from a biography (or autobiography). A memoir is the intersection between memory and story and typically focuses on one major event or process.

Next thing to note, you don’t need to have an outrageous life. To write a memoir, you just need to be prepared for these four things.

1 – Reminiscing can be immersive.

Be prepared for negative emotions to resurface as strongly as they did at the time. As you go through the story, you’re going to have to make it real for the readers, which means delving into the emotions and thought processes you were having at the time the events actually took place.

2 – Deciding on a voice.

Is this told by the you-of-today? By younger-you? Or do you want a dual-timeline, perhaps comparing recent events to ones that happened years before?

You get to decide what works best for your story.

3 – Discovering the theme.

A memoir isn’t just a recitation of events and stories. It needs a theme. You don’t need to know the theme when you start, but as you edit and polish your work, often you can find the theme that ties the events together.

Themes are varied, but there are some universal themes. Self-growth or discovery. Coming into one’s own. The way truths–or lies impact everyone. Or the impact of a single person on the trajectory of your life.

4 – Resist holding back.

Share your memories the way you remember them. Don’t hold back because you might show someone in a negative light. It’s surprisingly hard to sue someone for defamation in a memoir – they’re supposed to be based on true events – not 100% fact. Memory is faulty and it’s hard to prove your version isn’t the true version – as long as you don’t start making outrageous claims.

Don’t hold back or save the major event for the end as a surprise. It’s hard to build up to something so major without it feeling almost anti-climatic. Have that critical event be the starting point, or make references to it and make the reader anticipate with current-you, getting to that event.


And that’s how to build your memoir — or help someone else build theirs. Welcome the memories, pick a voice, recognize the theme, and don’t hold back. What are you waiting for?


Have you written a memoir? Tell me what experience you shared.
Have you thought about writing one? What would you like to share with readers?

(Thanks to Write By The Rails’s president, Jan Rayl for organizing the workshop and a special thanks to Nancy Kyme for sharing her experiences with us.)