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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What Type of Writing Mentor Do You Need?

Writing is often thought of as a solitary activity.

But?

It doesn’t have to be!

There are a lot of writing communities out there: online, writer groups, critique groups, and more!

And sometimes? If you have the opportunity to reach out to someone at the next stage of their writing, you can find a mentor.

Not all mentors are created the same, and not all mentors are right for you.

What to look for in a mentor

1 – They Write In Your Genre

Before anything else, you need a mentor that knows your genre. Managing expectations is key. Yes, you want novels that have twists and turns. Yes, you can have novels that push the boundaries.

But. You should still write with a reader in mind, even if that reader is you.

A picture book is going to look different than a cozy mystery is going to be different than an epic fantasy. If your mentor doesn’t write in your genre, they might miss you overdoing a trope, or get confused with why there are dragons.

2 – What Writing Strength Compliments Yours?

Writers typically have a particular strength.

3 Main Writing Strengths:

  1. World Building – these writers build worlds that are complex. Fully three-dimensional immersive worlds that fascinate, without breaking the readers sense of disbelief.
  2. Plot – these writers have intriguing plots that carry you along for the ride. You just have to find out what happens next.
  3. Character building – these writers create characters that you just can’t leave.

If you’re comfortable with your world building, you’re likely going to want a mentor who is strong in plotting or character building. You’re going to want someone who can bring your other aspects up to the level of your greatest strength.

3 – What Writing Style Complements Yours?

Besides looking at your strengths, you also have to be aware of your writing style.

3 Main Writing Styles

  1. Sensory – these writers create meals you can taste, outfits you can feel exactly where they itch, songs you can sing. This often compliments a world-builder, but not always. The biggest thing these writers need to look out for is losing sight of the plot and having the reader lose the plot. These writers often need to trim words.
  2. Screen play – these are the writers that show every stage direction, but don’t give you motivation or thoughts. These can have great action sequences, but can give the reader trouble connecting to the characters. These writers often need to fill in detail and round out their world.
  3. Lost In Thought – these writers let you into the main character’s head (1st person or close 3rd point-of-view). They share the character’s thoughts, feelings, observations and rationalizations. But, sometimes the characters aren’t that observant and you miss sensory detail and action. These writers often need to both trim down the thoughts, and add in sensory and action.

Just like with writing strength, finding a mentor with a style that compliments yours can help fill in the aspects that you don’t focus on.

4 – What writing stage are you in?

You want a mentor who is ready to help you with the writing stage that you’re in. One that is comfortable with whatever stage you need to get through next.

We already know there are tons of writing stages and we all have our unique strengths and weaknesses.

Writing Stages:

  1. Writing — looking for someone to bounce ideas off of
  2. Revision — looking for someone who can recognize plot holes, pacing issues, and unneeded tangents.
  3. Editing — looking for someone who in attentive to phrasing, word flow, and dialogue. Who can notice inconsistencies in voice and tense.
  4. Querying — looking for someone who’s queried in the last 10 years: they’ll know the market, the trends, and the process better than someone who pre-dates the predominance of email queries.
  5. Publishing — looking for someone who’s been published the way you’re being published. Indie, small press, and trad(itional) publishing all have different benefits and detriments, so you’ll want someone who can guide you through whichever publishing route you ended up going.
  6. Marketing — looking for someone who knows what works, and what doesn’t work in your specific market — both genre and publishing-style-wise. Different markets work differently.

Some can mentor you through all stages, whereas others are more comfortable with particular aspects of the process.

Beware: Things To Watch Out For

All that said, even mentors that compliment you well might not be right for you. Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. Mentors who don’t get your story, even after explanations. They won’t be able to offer usable feedback.
  2. Mentors who are not responsive. This one’s self-explanatory.
  3. Mentors whose feedback doesn’t bring out the best in you. For some? Some ignore soft feedback, some find sharp criticism either makes them want to give up or dig in their heels and justify themself.
  4. Mentors who love everything or hate everything. There’s always stuff you can improve, but if they hate everything, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your attention.
  5. Mentors who are abusive. If you leave conversations from them feeling personally attacked and beaten down, if they’re assholes to you or others — you do not owe them. You can end a mentorship relationship at any time. CAVEAT: The writing community is small. If you’re worried about repercussions, break off a relationship in whatever way makes you feel most safe. You can politely thank them for their time and tell them that you want to go in a different direction, or that you need a break from your writing. Or? You can tell them where they can shove it.

Where To Find a Mentor

There are lots of places to look for a mentor, but many organizations offer mentorship opportunities.

  1. Twitter contests — such as #PitchWars, #WriteMentor, and more.
  2. Professional organizations – the writing society for your genre. (Google knows the way).
  3. Local Writing Clubs
  4. Online Communities
  5. Teachers – Take some writing classes and see if you find a teacher you work well with (or even fellow classmate).

Do you have a mentor? Where did you find them?

Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a mentor? I’d appreciate hearing about other warning signs but understand discretion.

How I Finally Gave In and Set Up My Own Newsletter Using MailChimp

Well, that was more complicated (and a little $$) than expected.

Until Monday, I Thought I Didn’t Need An Actual Email List

If you’re like me, you keep hearing how you’re supposed to cultivate that whole ’email list’ thing.

One problem.

I hate email. I like to read, archive, and keep my inbox under 25 items–aiming for Zero Inbox.

Besides! WordPress lets people sign-up with their emails, so they can get the updates that way. Right?

Apparently, I missed a small little detail.

When I FINALLY (after like 4 years) re-signed up to see what my email looked like? I learned You’ve Got To Have A WordPress Account To Subscribe!

Don’t get me wrong. When I set up my blog, four years ago, I checked out the first several emails, to make sure they looked fine. But? I had a wordpress account, so I didn’t even notice.

Besides? If I want to check out my blog, I view it on an RSS feed.

What’s an RSS Feed?

It’s a way to follow blogs and get all their updates — like Facebook, only you’re following Blogs, not individuals. Tumblr is actually an RSS Feed, but you can only follow other Tumblr blogs.

Whoops!

I know that’s gonna turn off people who don’t want ANOTHER account.

That’s When I Realized I Needed An ACTUAL Email Newsletter

I did some quick googling, and went with the one I saw most recommended, most used, and was FREE! (At least with my level of followers…)

So, next thing I know, I’ve got a freebie MailChimp account (so long as my mailing has fewer than 2,000 emails a month, I don’t have to pay a thing!) Plus, they promise a seamless experience when you switch to the paid levels. $10-$30 bucks until I have over 2,500 followers. [Sign up HERE!]

I went to the website, created an account, set up some groups, and then?

I created an automated welcome email and weekly RSS feed emails.

That’s when I notice something.

They’re posting my HOME ADDRESS. Eep! Not really something I want to provide to any online stalker. With a note that says US anti-spam law REQUIRES an address on any sort of mass emailing.

Sad trombone!

Fine. I’ll get a P.O. Box.

But wait.

Worn stop sign, in front of trees, a solid white wall half hiding a brick building.
Photo by Mwabonje on Pexels.com

It needs a physical address?

A little research later and I found a nearby Post Office that also lets you use their street address. I sign up online, pay, and… need to go in, in person, to get the key and show ID.

I pop on over on my lunch break, during this gorgeous 68′ February flash-spring and present my Passport and Driver’s License. Only 2 people ahead of me in line.

After a short wait, I hand over my papers. Only problem. I moved last year and my driver’s license is out of date– despite me updating them.

I dash out to my car and rifle through my glove box. My insurance card doesn’t have an address on it. But wait, what’s this folded piece of paper. My voter information sheet, telling me where to vote? Does it count as my voter ID?

I bring it back in, fingers crossed. With no line, I beeline to the counter and hand it over.

Does she accept it?

YES!

A few signatures later (and $92 for 12+1 free month, otherwise known as $7 a month), I now have a PO Box. She gets me two keys to test and hands me the paper with the street address to use.

Fun Fact:

It’s a different zip code than the street address of the normal post office.

Long story short — I now have a PO box with a street address and an email newsletter.

(Now I can use THAT when I win random twitter contests, instead of giving my mailing address to strangers.)

Quick Humble-Brag Break

I’m well on my way to hitting my reading goal for this year, with 16 books already under my belt.

And? Last Friday, I talked to my new mentor on the phone.

Mentor? Tell me more, Morgan.

I sent in a mentee application just before New Years to the Broad Universe‘s debut program and found out I was selected two Saturdays ago. We’d been emailing back and forth for a week, before we finally talked to start making a plan and for her to critique my 1st chapter.

That poor chapter’s been critiqued SOO many times. But, getting enough world building that no one is confused, without overwhelming them with info-dumps is a hard balance — and likely in a different place for every reader. I’ve got a little more work to do there.

As you know, I was planning on a little polishing and tossing her back into the query trenches. I’m sighing a little and getting ready to delve back into a full revision. Oh well. I’ve got high hopes and a guide, this time.

But! Back to MailChimp.

Getting Started With Groups On MailChimp

After MailChimp walked me through setting up, I knew I wanted custom email levels. I HATE stores that send either 7 emails a week or NOTHING. So, I looked around and figured out how to set up GROUPS.

Step 1: Open the list

Go to the Lists tab (create one for everyone who's received a welcome email if you don't have one yet), and select the list.

Go to the Lists tab (create one for everyone who’s received a welcome email if you don’t have one yet), and select the list.

Step 2: Manage your contacts

Select the 'Manage Contacts' drop down.

Select the ‘Manage Contacts’ drop down.

Step 3: Select ‘Groups’

Step 4: Create your groups

Click 'Show Groups'. Then, select 'Add Group' and name it as you wish. If you do this early, like I did, you won't have to add contacts manually, they'll be prompted when they sign up!

Click ‘Show Groups’. Then, select ‘Add Group’ and name it as you wish. If you do this early, like I did, you won’t have to add contacts manually, they’ll be prompted when they sign up!

And Ta-daaa! You’ve created groups, so people only get the emails they’re interested in.

My groups are:

  • Everything! (which I’m sure is what most people want *winks*)
  • Weekly Blog posts — which I plan to only send out once a week with all my newest blog posts inside
  • Occasional Updates — if I have news or such that I’d like to share with a targeted audience
  • And a group I like to call, “Actually Published Something“, for those people who support my writing, but don’t care about the details. Just let them know when I have something new coming out.

Creating The Actual EMAILS

MailChimp made this SUPER easy, with its built-in templates. But, there’s still a decent number of steps. You ready?

Step 1: Create A Campaign

We start off by selecting the 'Create Campaign' button.

We start off by selecting the ‘Create Campaign’ button.

Step 2: Select Campaign Type

In this case, I'm looking for EMAILS.

In this case, I’m looking for EMAILS.

Step 3: Automate This Thing!

I set up 2 types of Automated emails, a simple confirmation/welcome email, and a weekly blog feed. In this case, I'll be showing the RSS feed, because it's a bit tricker, but the flow is nearly identical. So, select the 'Automated' tab, and then pick your email type.

I set up 2 types of Automated emails, a simple confirmation/welcome email, and a weekly blog feed.

In this case, I’ll be showing the RSS feed, because it’s a bit tricker, but the flow is nearly identical. So, select the ‘Automated’ tab, and then pick your email type.

Step 4: Name Your (Email) Campaign

Set a name for the campaign and select the list you're using. (Luckily, you've already got that list set up!)

Set a name for the campaign and select the list you’re using. (Luckily, you’ve already got that list set up!)

Step 5: Map Your Feed and Schedule It

1 - Enter the RSS feed address. Typically, your address plus "\feed", but if you're not sure, just put in the URL and MailChimp will check for you.
2. Set the email period - daily, weekly, monthly..., set the time of day, and set the days of the week you'd like to email (IF there is something new.)
3. I saw complaints about poor quality images in the email feed, and saw recommendations to UNSELECT the 'Resize RSS feed images', so I did that.
  1. Enter the RSS feed address. Typically, your address plus “\feed”, but if you’re not sure, just put in the URL and MailChimp will check for you.
  2. Set the email period – daily, weekly, monthly…, set the time of day, and set the days of the week you’d like to email (IF there is something new.)
  3. I saw complaints about poor quality images in the email feed, and saw recommendations to UNSELECT the ‘Resize RSS feed images’, so I did that.

Step 6: Select Which Group Gets This Email

1 - Decide who gets this email: everyone? a segment/tag? or a group? I've got my groups set up, so that's what I choose.
2 - Select the question under 'Groups': "Which emails would you like to get", then select the modifier, and the groups they're in. Maybe this email should only go to people who selected Occasional Updates AND Actually Published Something?  But no. I went with "one of" and "Weekly Blogposts.
3 - Click DONE!
.
  1. Decide who gets this email: everyone? a segment/tag? or a group? I’ve got my groups set up, so that’s what I choose.
  2. Select the question under ‘Groups’:
    1. “Which emails would you like to get”
    2. Select the modifier, and the groups they’re in.
      1. Maybe this email should only go to people who selected Occasional Updates AND Actually Published Something?
      2. But no. I went with “one of” and “Weekly Blogposts.
  3. Click DONE!

Step 7: Select Your Campaign Options

To be honest, I didn't know what all of these options were and just sort of used my best judgment.


To be honest, I didn’t know what all of these options were and just sort of used my best judgment.

  • I like stats (that are free)
  • I’m happy to have formatted contact names — especially if it lowers the odds I’ll be tossed in the SPAM folder.
  • As my blog already retweets to twitter and facebook, I didn’t need those options.
  • I did select auto-convert video because of posts like this one with youtube embedded.

Step 8: Select Your Template

I like the basic template. I don't want fancy columns that end up with emails about 3 words across and an eternity's worth of scrolling. I wanted it simple and clean. So, I selected the basic template and hit 'next'.

I like the basic template. I don’t want fancy columns that end up with emails about 3 words across and an eternity’s worth of scrolling. I wanted it simple and clean.

So, I selected the basic template and hit ‘next’.

Step 9: Add Content To Your Email

For this example, I dragged the 'RSS Items' content block onto the email preview and then 'Social Share' (whoops, image has the wrong one circled), so people can easily share links to my blog if they liked the post. Put it in an order that makes sense to you.

For this example, I dragged the ‘RSS Items’ content block onto the email preview and then ‘Social Share’ (whoops, image has the wrong one circled), so people can easily share links to my blog if they liked the post.

Put it in an order that makes sense to you.

Step 10: Decide How Wordy Your Email Should Be

Decide how much of your blog post you want displayed in the email. I opted for 'Full Content."

Decide how much of your blog post you want displayed in the email. I opted for ‘Full Content.”

I’m torn here: I’m not huge on busy emails, so I’d probably prefer the Titles, or Excerpts. But. This isn’t for me. People who want an email are likely people who don’t want to go to my blog all the time. I have to remember that not everyone consumes the internet the way I do.

Maybe I should set up 2 ‘weekly blogpost’ emails — one full text and one not?

Then? You just confirm the email and hit publish! And you’re email is ready to go. You can pause and edit it at any time, without messing up the feed.

AND! Best of all? You can preview the upcoming emails.

If you’re interested in signing up for this awesome newsletter/blog update, there’s a bar at the bottom of my webpage, and a tab-link on my facebook author page I also set up. But, I figured I gave you enough step-by-step directions for today.

How I finally gave in and set up my own newsletter

Do YOU have an email list?
If so, do you have any tips for a newbie?
If not, are you contemplating one now?

Vlog: 10 Questions To Ask Your Beta-Readers

Since this week’s blog post is 90% vacation photos and stats, this week’s vlog post is a site favorite, from before I started Vlogging.