Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Panel Etiquette

                                      This picture was yanked from my buddy P.J. Schnyder.

“Yes, panels.” 
“What are those?” 
“Things you should be doing.” 
“Because you are an author.”

It’s the truth.  So many authors think, “Okay, I wrote the book, I got it published, now I just need to sit back and collect royalties.”  Wrong.  Getting published is a very small step in a long list of things you need to do if you want to have a successful career as an author.  What do you need to do after you get published?  Sell yourself.  That’s right.  With the advent of e-publishing, self-publishing, and the YA boom, there are so many people who are published these days that promoting yourself is the only thing that will get you noticed.  What’s one of the ways to do that?

Be on a panel.
That means going to a convention and volunteering to be put up in front of a room full of people to talk about you, your writing, and everything that is related to your writing.  Usually you have other people up there with you.  Usually the people running the convention have designated someone to be the "moderator."  There might be a clock, there might be water, you may have to make your own fire and trap your own lizards.

Once you are put on a panel here are some things to think about.

1.  Make sure you show up.  Don't volunteer to do something and then cop out on it. ESPECIALLY if you are the moderator.  People are coming to see and hear YOU.  The other panelists might sit there waiting for YOU.  And if you show up, people are less likely to like YOU.

2.  Be on time.  Be there when the panel starts.  This might mean investigating where the room you are doing your panel in is BEFORE the panel starts.  Make sure the panel ends on time.  Panels that run over their designated time just make life harder for the next set of panelists.  Bring a watch with you to every convention!

3.  Take care of business before going in.  There is nothing worse for someone trying to concentrate on the panel than someone who is everywhere but.  Arrange your stuff ahead of time, bring a drink, go to the bathroom before coming in, turn off your phone.

4.  Go in with some idea of what the panel is about and how you feel about the topic.  If you are the moderator, make sure you have a clear idea of how you want to run the show.  Make a list of questions or comments that you could make to jump-start a stale conversation.  Often, I've seen moderators set up ground rules at the beginning of the panel.  This may sound childish, but people tend to let down there hair at cons and sometimes that lets their snakes lose too!

5.  Be polite and courteous to your fellow panelists and the people watching the panel.  Wait your turn to speak.  Don't get so passionate about how much you hate sparkly vampires that people make a point to avoid you in the future.

6.  Be professional.  Have your brand face and clothes on.  Treat people the way 'John Doe' the author would talk to people.

7.  Bring your outdoor voice.  I can't tell you how many time I've gone to watch a panel and can't hear the panelist over the heavy breathing of the guy sitting in front of me.

8.  Bring promotional material.  This could be a couple of copies of books, covers, bookmarks, business cards.  Anything people can pick up and take home is good -- preferably it has some way for them to connect to your social networking sites.

9.  Plug yourself.  This is not just fun times talking about your favorite horror scenes.  This is a chance for you to make an impact in the buying habits of those 10-50 people watching you.  Have some kind of mini-pitch lined up.  Usually a moderator will ask panelist to introduce themselves, make sure you introduce your work along with yourself.  Also, try your best to plug your work as you are speaking about the topic.  Don't go overboard by continually picking up your book and saying "buy this."  You want to say things like, "The horror scene in movie X was great because ABC, I wanted to capture that in this particular scene in this particular book.  These are the issues I had."  This type of dialogue is much more interesting and far more likely to get someone curious about your work because it shows you CARE about the work itself, not just selling it.

10.  No matter how much 'that guy' bothers you, don't make it obvious to the onlookers.  There's always that one person who either goes on forever or can't seem to make a point or just argues for the sake of it.  Often you and everyone else in the room want to clobber him, but try to look cool and patient.

11.  On the flip side, don't BE that guy.  Try to give everyone a chance to speak and don't speak until you know what you're trying to say.

12.  Handle jerks in the most diplomatic way possible.  Sometimes people butt heads, it's inevitable.  How you handle yourself in one of these tough situations will be how people remember you in the future.

13.  Give the audience some love.  The people are coming because they are interested in the topic.  Don't forget to let them ask questions or add valuable commentary.  Just because someone gave you a seat at the front doesn't mean you're King of the Panel.

14.  With #14 in mind, stay on topic.  You're all in the same room for a reason.  It's to talk about the panel topic.  Keeping on topic is the moderator's job, BUT if you find the discussion getting off topic and no one is doing anything about it, try to gently steer it back in the right direction.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Diva Don'ts

After hearing horror stories and seeing first hand the horror of the literary diva, I feel it is necessary to address why you should remain humble as an author.

1.  The Queen Bee.  It doesn't matter how great you are.  There is always someone better.  If you don't recognize that and look to them as role-models you will inevitably make a fool of yourself.

2.  The Saucy Sister.  I know you've had tons of readers who loved your work, but there's gonna be someone out there who thinks your writing is the worst thing created by a bipedal hominid.  They like to tell you about how much you suck on forums and in nasty emails.  You may feel like making rude hand gestures at the screen for five minutes and then writing a scathing retort.  But stop and think for a minute.  Think about what a person might do in retaliation if you send them an email back.  Think about all the other people who visit that forum.  Take a deep breath and swallow your pride.

3.  The Lazy Susan.  If you want something done, you better darn well do it yourself.  A lot of authors think, "Oh well, I wrote the book and did the edits, now I sit back and relax and let my publisher do the work."  Um, no.  You have to get your butt out there and do it yourself these days.  That includes taking responsibility, making sure that you are prepared for the worse possible scenarios, and not being a cry baby about it when things don't go as planned.

4.  The Gossip Guru.  The industry is small.  If you piss someone off, everyone else will know you suck in less than a week. Similarly, if you lie or gossip about someone, they are inevitably going to find out.  Again, think about things before you follow through on them.

5.  The Drama Mama.  If you are demanding, impatient, and unreliable you will chase away valuable allies and opportunities.  Patience and professionalism are key virtues in this industry, learn them and love them.

6.  Typically Two-Faced. Your author persona is the face of your work.  If you come off as a diva, people are less likely to want to read your work, make friends with you, or approach you. 

7.  The Wall Flower.  Don't forget to have fun.  There is a huge difference between the demanding princess diva and the fun loving, disco diva.  This industry is stressful enough, don't make being a likable author a chore.  If you're a stick in the mud you stand out just as much!

8.  The Nit-Picker.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Obsessively pointing out those mistakes in the work or behavior of others isn't going to make friends.  In fact, it will only make people more critical of YOU and YOUR work.

Did I miss one?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Away, Away

There will be no posts over the next few days because I'm going to be going to Authors After Dark in Philadelphia.  It's a for readers by authors weekend of awesomeness that I encourage everyone to attend in following years. 

Ten Reasons Why AAD is Going to Rock:

1.  I'm going to be on my first two panels ever.  YA and Otherworldly Heroes.  Wish me luck!

2.  I'm going to come home with even more free books than I did last year.  Can I top 32 free books.  Like heck I can!

3.  I'm going to see my agent!  Cross your fingers that she has good news about the submission for Scar-Crossed.

4.  I'm going to see some of my closest author friends and hopefully meet people that I've been networking with over the Internet.

5.  There's going to be a ton of chocolate.  God, help my waistline.

6.  Bellydancing and Hooping?  Yeah, I'm there.

7.  Tons of give-aways and raffles.

8.  It's to help raise money for an animal charity.  Believe it or not, while I'm not a fan of babies I love animals.

9.  ...A new age vendor room?  With an aura photographer?  ...I'm intrigued.

10.  PLUS, there is going to be a Mythos Masquerade Ball AND a Steampunk Ball.  We know how much I love to dress up.

Could my life get any better?  Probably not.  Well, maybe if I had a harem of hunky men...J/K

If you are already attending, then I'll see you there!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Dreams May Come--Kickstarting You Creative Mind

Okay, so I know I promised a post on why we retell fairy tales, but I've been working on it and finding that it's taking me longer to gather all my thoughts than I originally expected.  So, in order to keep you all marginally interested, I'd like to talk about dreams and how they help with my writing.

If you've been following this blog, you'll know that I've been dealing with intermittent spells of writer's block.  As time has gone on, I've managed to pinpoint factors in my life that deter or aid my creative spirit.  As we're addressed previously, having an adequate muse is one. 

Letting your dreams run rampant is another.

I know I'm not the only writer who writes according to dreams.  Stephanie Meyer supposedly wrote the entire Twilight series because she had a dream about a boy and a girl lying in a field of flowers.  She felt that if she didn't tell their story she'd be doing them a grave injustice. 

When I first read her comments I thought to myself, "Wow, that's just like me."  Nearly everything I have written is based off of dreams.  I often have sequential dreams.  In other words, sometimes my dreams will pick up right where they left off the previous night. 

I know exactly what Ms. Meyer means.  When you are visited by this sort of creative spirit, it seems a crime to ignore it.  I feel compelled to share my dreams with the world.  So, when the dreams first started coming when I was in high school, I started writing them down.  I wrote the entirety of my first three novels (which will one day be re-written) while I was in high school.

Sad to say, as I went to college and my life became more hectic and stressful, the dreams became less.  I still had them from time to time -- that's how I started The Will of the Fallen series -- but not nearly as much.

As time has gone by and I've become more serious as a writer, I've learned what triggers my creativity and what doesn't.  Believe it or not, reading and listening to audio books doesn't do it for me.  This is a tricky fix because a writer should always do a lot of reading in order to study the work of other authors, increase their vocabulary, and broaden their conceptual horizons.  However, while reading other works may help my writer's craft, it doesn't give me dreams and it doesn't give me entertaining plot. 

My theory is this: If I'm feeding my imagination with someone else's story then my brain stops trying to entertain itself with its own stories.  Think about it this way: The Universe is trying to send you a signal, but you've got too much interference going on to receive it. 

So, if I want to receive that signal, I actually have to stop reading for a couple of weeks.  This clears the air waves and gives my brain a rest.  Even then, I might need something to kick start the dreaming.  Sort of my own signal to the Universe letting it know I'm ready for enlightenment.

You want to know what gets my mind cranking out subconscious imagery?  Television.  Yes, sitting on my tush and watching television gets my mind active.  I hate to say it, but reality shows are best -- at least for me.  I think because they lack a fantasy aspect, but provide me with real life characters and situations that my mind can accurately throw into a fantasy situation.  Perhaps television works because I'm a visual writer?  Many of my readers have said that reading my work is like watching a movie.  Guess you now know why.  :)

So, that's how I can clear my brain and getting pumped for story time.

However, even if I watch television before bed, there are other factors that complicate things.  Stress and lack of sleep time are obvious.  If I'm stressed my sleep is restless.  If I don't get enough time to sleep then I don't hit a deep enough sleep to dream or I'll dream but forget what I dreamed because the alarm makes me too alert too quickly.  I need to be in a Zen place in order to have an open enough mind for the Universe to send me some plot juju. 

How does this help you?

If you're having trouble writing, take a look at your life.  Assess what stresses you out and what disturbs your sleep and try your best to remedy it.  I drink herbal teas to help me relax before bed.  Stop overtaxing your brain.  Give yourself some "downtime" by just zoning out and letting your imagination have a break.  Put down the book.  Put down the stress.  Stop pushing yourself.  get in touch with your muse.  Your story will come when you are ready to handle it.