4 Things I Learned From My First Author Event

In early November, I had the opportunity to attend an author fair and book signing event at my local library. I actually found out about this occasion while visiting the library. As I walked to put up a couple of books I had on hold, I noticed a huge poster on the wall promoting the event. I took a snapshot of the poster with my phone and when I got home, I immediately inquired if there was a chance to get a table. Luckily I reached out just in time as tables were filling up fast.

To prepare for the author expo, I scoured the internet for helpful posts on what to bring. At the end of this post, I’ll share a couple of my favorite posts I found. For now, I’d like to share what I personally learned from attending my first in person author event.

1. Marketing Materials are Key

local author fair booth setup

As it turns out, not everyone wanted to buy my book on the spot. How dare they! Most event attenders were coming to the library for another event targeted at kids or just coming on a normal library trip to drop off or browse for new books. They ended up traveling around to different tables as an afterthought. While a buying a book at any price might not been in their heads for this trip, a free bookmark, flyer, or business card is much more likely to come home with an attendee.

All of these free marketing assets and even something like a newsletter or mailing list sign up sheet provide potential customers with something to take home, research, and a future opportunity to make a purchase of your books at a more convenient time. They may even pass along your information to a friend who might better fit your typical reader. I did have a business card, but not a bookmark or flyer. I saw many attendees carrying around other authors’ flyers.

2. Consider Your Audience

In hindsight, I was very ambitious. I ordered 15 books that I was hoping to sell at the fair. But to my surprise, I sold a whopping zero. As it turns out, most of the patrons to this event were more interested in browsing tables and talking to authors. There were really only a couple of tables that I saw sell more than one book. I’m sure this isn’t the case in all local author fairs, but my particular library isn’t in a bustling metropolis, so the number of visitors was never going to sustain that many book sales.

At the same time, my books are a bit more niche. A book that is targeted at coaching basketball and a kids’ sports fiction chapter book don’t appeal to everyone. While that is helpful when you are selling books online as the number of potential customers is seemingly endless, a smaller event like this one meant that there would be way less interest in those types of books. That doesn’t mean these events aren’t worthwhile if you don’t have a widely appealing book because you never know who you will meet or who might attend.

3. Leverage Your Local Fans

While there was not an overwhelming amount of foot traffic at this event, there was a table just a few feet away from mine that consistently had people coming over to them. The table did have some interesting graphics and larger posters to draw people in, but it seemed like these fans already knew exactly where to go when they came in.

Upon further watching (I told you I wasn’t selling any books myself, right?), these visitors seemed to have prior relationships with the author. Not only do these local fans help raise your spirits and make for good photo opportunities, but I would wager that they are likely to make other people in the fair notice the excitement surrounding your books. It’s like having a 5 star Amazon review come to life.

4. Don’t Forget to Network

My table at the local author event

Of course, as an author, my primary motivation at a local author event like this was to sell books to customers and hopefully make some new fans. At the same time, I was surrounded by a couple dozen authors of varying backgrounds and experiences. Being newer to the writing scene, I’m always looking to learn authors’ stories and what might have worked for them. In my experience, other authors are incredibly generous and willing to share tips and advice. They want to see other writers succeed.

Toward the end of the event, I decided to go around and talk to these authors. One author I talked to mentioned that she was actually a former screenwriter in Hollywood and had entered a writing contest with a friend. She won the contest and that jumpstarted her writing career. Now she’s a USA Today best-selling author.

Another author just across the way, shared with me that in her effort to get traditionally published she queried dozens of publishing houses but focused specifically on smaller publishers that focused specifically on her niche. Now she has at least 7 published books and makes her living writing.

Both of these stories reminded me of the stories I shared in a past post. Each author seems to have an unique journey to success. There is not a one-size fits all route to being an author. It reminds me of the importance of perseverance.

Other Resources

Here are a couple of the blog posts that I used to prepare for my first author fair. Hopefully, they can help you too!

Ten Tips for Authors Going to Their First Book Fair

10 Things You Should Know About Your First Author Expo and Book Fair

Have you attending a local author fair? What did you learn and what worked for you?

Should You Make Your Own Book Cover?

When I first started self-publishing books, I think I made an unstated goal to myself: try to do it for as cheap as possible. It was a side-project for me after all. And in many ways, I succeeded in sticking to that unsaid goal. I designed two book covers for free using design sites like Canva. I formatted and designed both my ebook and paperback editions by myself in Google Docs. I edited my manuscripts and had a couple of generous friends look them over as well.

While the sentiment behind my frugal target made intuitive sense, (after all, the less money you spend, the less you have to take out of your profits) I’ve found that it doesn’t always work out as well as you hope. Putting formatting and self-editing troubles aside, I found that I didn’t get quite what I wanted out of my own book cover design.

In order to prepare for my first in-person author event at a local author fair, I decided to revisit my book covers to see if I could spruce them up a bit. This time, instead of a DIY book cover, I sought help from a graphic designer. The rest of this post will be dedicated to good and bad the bad about both making your own book cover and hiring someone else to do it for you.

DIY Book Cover Design

Pro – You are in control

One of the big draws with self-publishing, in general, is the idea of your having complete control over everything. No one is going to change your book cover to fit a certain market.

Pro – Cost

This was the most important reason for me to initially try and do-it-myself. I had experience making some custom graphics using software like Canva. There are so many free tools out there that give you some good design options.

Con – Lack of Skill or Options

I know some people are Photoshop pros, but that is not me. If you are the design novice camp, you are going to end up settling for less. You are stuck using free templates, graphics, photos, etc. If you have something really specific in mind, it might not happen.

Professional Book Cover Design

Pro – A Truly Custom Look

This is huge. Self-published titles continue to explode. With increased competition, there is an increased need to stand out from the crowd. A custom and unique book cover will do that for you.

Pro – Professional Touch

I’m so grateful to Chelsea, my book cover designer. She took my feedback and was able to turn it into great-looking covers. There were quite a few times when I wanted just a single color changed or a different font or a tiny design element moved. Instead of being limited by the template I was using, she could take care of every detail.

Con – Cost

I already touched on this a bit above, but, if you want a custom look and if you don’t have the design skill necessary, you’ll have to cough up some dough. Just know what your budget is and stick to it.

Before & After

Now for the best part: the reveals!

Book Cover Redesign for Coaching Youth Basketball

Book Cover Redesign for Crunch Time Cam

I’m so happy with how they both turned out. The biggest difference to me is how they reflect more of the content that you will find inside the books. They felt like vague and generic basketball books before.

What do you think? Do you like the updated books covers?

How These Two Authors Got Published for the First Time

This post is part 2 of a series centered around attending a local author fair at the West Osceola Library in Central Florida. This intimate event had several self-published and traditionally published authors in attendance. The highlights for me were the two guest speaking sessions by three different types of authors. Each one shared stories of their writing and publishing experiences that were helpful to me and hopefully to you, too. If you missed part 1, you can check it out here!

The second session I attended was hosted by two traditionally published authors with diverse backgrounds. Their session centered around their publishing journeys, and how they got to where they are now, and how to get a book published for the first time.

The Trunk Novel

Jan Eldrege Author
Courtesy of http://janeldredge.com/

The first author to speak was Jan Eldredge. Jan’s book Evangeline of the Bayou, a middle-grade adventure novel, was published back in 2008 (and it has an awesome cover). Jan shared some great tips and tricks that helped her along the path to publishing, but the most interesting thing she shared was the idea that everyone should have a “trunk novel.” Maybe you’ve heard this term before, but it was a first for me. Jan described a trunk novel as an author’s first finished work. Where does the trunk come into play, you might ask. Well, the trunk happens to be the novel’s dark and dingy home for the remainder of its days.

Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge
Courtesy of http://janeldredge.com/

Jan shared that, in her experience and in talking to other authors, most times when you finally sit down and finish that first book, it’s total crap. While I might not advocate that you effectively throw your hard work into the garbage, more often than not, she’s probably right. Writing, like anything else, takes practice. You most likely aren’t going to be J.K. Rowling the first time you take a crack at it. I think the general sentiment around her words is that when you read back that first draft, don’t get discouraged. It’s probably not very good. But don’t give up! If you keep at it, you are most certainly going to get better.

Ghostwriting

Author Debbie Viguié
Courtesy of https://debbieviguie.com/

The next author to share her publishing journey was Debbie Viguié. Debbie is a New York Times Bestselling Author and has published upwards of 50 novels across a variety of genres. Her publishing story was fascinating. She got her start by helping out a well-known author with a story when the author was spread too thin with different projects. Debbie hopped at the chance to be a ghostwriter for this project and knocked it out of the park. When Debbie’s friend tried to get her a contract with the same publisher, they initially said no due to the fact that she hadn’t been published before. But then the friend shared that everything they liked in the last book was Debbie’s handiwork and they changed their tune.

Hearing Jan and Debbie talk about their publishing journeys was fascinating. They had wildly diverse paths to getting published, but they had a couple of things in common, they worked incredibly hard and they didn’t give up. Any aspiring author will do well to develop those two character traits.

Peter Raymundo on the 5 Elements of Story Structure at Disney

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to attend a local author fair at the West Osceola Library in Central Florida. It was a small event with several self-published and traditionally published authors in attendance. The highlights for me were the two guest speaking sessions by three different types of authors. Each one shared stories of their writing and publishing experiences that were helpful to me and hopefully to you, too. Part 1 will cover just the first session which included Disney’s storytelling formula and an author/illustrator’s writing process.

The first session was hosted by author and illustrator Peter Raymundo. A former animator for Disney films such as Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, Peter has used his animation skills to jump into the publishing world with the Third Grade Mermaid book series and The Monkey Goes Bananas.

Peter Raymundo at book fair
Courtesy of orangeobserver.com

An Illustrator’s Writing Process

Peter spoke at length about his writing process. For example, he shared how important it is for him, as an illustrator, to always have a sketchbook with him. When something in real life sparks his imagination, he gets to work right there. A lot of his books are marine life themed, so he visits aquariums regularly with his sketchbook. If he sees an interesting animal or something he’s never seen before, he pulls out the book, sits down, and sketches it right there.

Peter also talked about how much research goes into his stories before they are ever written. Animals he had never heard about before, such as the sea cucumber, come to life with interesting character traits based on the real-life research he does.

The Disney Storytelling Formula

My favorite thing that Peter discussed was about actually laying out how your story will flow. Most of us learned about the beginning, middle, and end of a story in school, but the former Tarzan animator said he learned something different to crafting stories at Disney. At Disney, they focused on the 5 parts of story structure. I’ll briefly list and explain the 5 parts below:

  1. Character: Who is the main character and what does he/she want?
  2. Setting: Location, time period, etc. It should become part of the story.
  3. Problem: What’s the one main problem with the main character getting what he/she wants?
  4. Struggle: The main character tries to get what they want, but fails over and over. Typically, the more they try the more complicated things get.
  5. Resolution: Does the main character succeed? Often they do, but not how they expected to.

Using Pixar’s Story Outline

Learning about story structure is always interesting to me. People have their own ways of deciding how to layout their narratives. For Crunch Time Cam, I used a story outline that I learned from a Khan Academy/Pixar course. It goes something like this:

  • There once was a ________ (Main character)
  • Everyday, ________ (His/her current life)
  • Until one day, ________ (Inciting incident that launches the adventure)
  • Because of that, ________ (Event after event that moves the plot forward)
  • Until finally, ________ (Resolution)

I highly recommend that Khan Academy course by the way. It was free, interactive, and incredibly helpful for beginner storytellers and veterans will pick up a thing or two. I’d love to hear if you have a formula for structuring your stories?

Part 2 of the Local Author Fair roundup can be found here!

Best Design Tools for Self-Publishing

When you are a self-published or indie author, you most likely are a do-it-yourself type of human being. You are also probably a life-long learner. These habits don’t just stop at discovering how to upload your words onto Amazon or Smashwords, however.

There’s a website to design, book covers to create, and possibly even a logo to invent. In this post, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite design tools that I’ve used to create book covers, graphics, and more.

Canva

Canva is, by far, my go-to resource for all things design. The interface is simple and the number of tools, templates, and graphics they provide give you a creative boost when you are trying to work out an abstract idea into a real book cover. There is also a feature called “Design Stream” that allows you to browse thousands of created designs by other Canva users. I use it for when I need inspiration from what other people can do with this powerful design tool. There are plenty of free or low-cost graphics and design templates to keep your design expenses low.

canva design templates

The process is as simple as starting with a blank canvas (see what they did there?) or choosing one of the free or paid templates they provide and then customizing to your desire. They utilize a simple drag-and-drop system and provide a guideline system that easily assists you with lining up your design elements just how you want them. And if you prefer to use some of your own images or photos to include in your design, you can upload them to the system as well. Two thumbs up for Canva.

Snagit

Snagit is a screen capture tool that has far more power than just snapping things on your screen. Snagit has a robust editor included in the tool that allows you to alter image colors, remove unwanted backgrounds, insert graphics and text onto images, or even blur out content that you don’t want others to see. It might not be as helpful for creating book covers, but it is a huge aid when you are making step-by-step or instructional blog posts. It even has screen recording capabilities if you want to explore that route.

snagit editor

Snagit isn’t free like my other two suggestions, but they do have a free trial available on their site. If you are looking just for a software tool to just do screenshots, there are many available for free. Most computers have this function built-in or you can use something like collabshot.

StockSnap.io

StockSnap.io’s tagline is “Beautiful free stock photos.” That’s right, you can get high quality, legit, and free from copyright restrictions photos from a generous community of photographers for your website and book covers. In fact, I used images I found on this site for the covers of my books Crunch Time Cam and Coaching Youth Basketball: Offensive Strategies.

stocksnap.io search

The website features a search feature where you can find the types of images you are looking for by entering a simple keyword like “basketball” or “business.” Then, StockSnap.io will deliver the corresponding results for you to browse and choose. Hundreds of high-resolution images are added weekly, so don’t forget to check back often if they don’t have exactly what you are looking for yet.

Your Turn

I hope you now have some useful new tools to work with for your next design needs. I used a combination of these tools for all of the graphics on this blog post just to give you an idea of how valuable they can be. Do you use other design tools for self-publishing or writing? I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comment section.

 

My Favorite Books of 2017

 

For the last couple of years, I’ve actually written down my resolutions for some fuzzy reasoning. It could be to alleviate the possibility of forgetting what my yearly aspirations would be which I most certainly did each year before jotting them down. It could be to motivate myself to achieve these goals that I pondered for roughly 10 minutes each December late in the month. Either way, on each yearly catalog, you’ll find listed first my reading goal. After achieving my goal of reading 24 books in 2016, I upped it to 48 books this past year. If you’re connected with me on Goodreads, you’ll know that I did reach that goal which means I have too much time on my hands. To prove that further, I thought I might do a little write up to recap my favorite titles of the past year.

The More of Less by Joshua Becker

There are endless blogs and books out there that talk about minimalism, but Josh Becker is my favorite voice. He does a great job of shifting the conversation from materialism and consumption to intentionality and generosity. It’s a practical and thoughtful message that I really appreciate.

Apes and Angels by Ben Bova

My first fiction entry in this post is Ben Bova’s sci-fi novel. This book is actually a part of a trilogy, but I read it on its own without any trouble. I find that some science fiction pieces have a had time creating engaging characters because they are so focused on the fancy tech or the alien life that inhabits their world, but Bova doesn’t have this problem at all. The lengthy tome flew by for me because I was engrossed in the stories and actions of the crew aboard the Odysseus. There’s action, there’s sacrifice, and there’s a good old-fashioned romance.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This one has been on my to-read list for years and I’m so glad I finally got to it. The book is actually a transcript of Lewis’s legendary broadcast talks during World War II that explored Christian concepts he’d previously talked/wrote about. C.S. Lews has a real knack for taking lofty ideals, values, and beliefs and making them digestible.

Sleeping Giants & Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

This was a strange case where I accidentally picked up the second story (Waking Gods) in the Themis Files series first and it was so engaging that I had to go back and read Sleeping Giants. The storytelling is unique in this sci-fi thriller. The chapters are laid out in an interview format. The characters involved bounce around from a mysteriously powerful figure to linguists and military personnel. Suspenseful, clever, and funny. It reminded me so much of those old films on TCM that I watch whenever I get the chance. Who doesn’t love The Day the Earth Stood Still or Forbidden Planet?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Each Halloween, I like to try a book or two of spooky literature. I’m not a gore guy, so instead, I steer toward the classics. Last year was Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which I enjoyed, but I gotta say, Frankenstein was amazing. I’ve read it once before in a college course I took on technological dystopia, but it was in graphic novel form. Everyone knows the story by now, but seriously, go read it. There is a reason it’s a classic. I also found it strangely prescient as AI continues to evolve.

Generous Justice by Timothy Keller

Tim Keller’s Generous Justice was a really enlightening and challenging book for me. In this book, he unpacks themes justice from a Biblical context and how they should shape how Christians live today. It’s easy to comprehend and invites readers to examine their own actions in regards to justice, mercy, and generosity.

Alright, those are some of my very favorite tomes that I’ve read this year. Can’t wait to see what stories I dive into in 2018.

I’d love to hear what your favorite reads were this year or if you enjoy any of the books on my list!

 

Sports & Literacy: Crucial Elements of Your Child’s Life

For kids (and all of us, really), life can be an aggregation of anxiety and stress. It’s full of social and academic pressures. Children and teens seek an oasis from this drudgery just like we do. Often they turn to tiny screens filled with social media, video games, or whatever their favorite apps happen to be. Those distractions aren’t necessarily bad things, but suggesting activities such as sports and literacy can have a big impact on how your child develops and create lifelong habits for them.

Strangely enough, it seems like sports and literacy are often pitted against one another. It’s the nerd versus jock stereotype, right? But in actuality, they can go hand in hand and help to build similar habits. The benefits of these two facets of life are numerous, but I’m going to detail some of my favorites:

Sports

Social Skills

Sports can develop or round out many different social skills. Teamwork, participation, effort, practice, dedication, communication – I feel like I could go on and on. These skills won’t be limited to the playing field either. They will use them in school and in their careers.

Health

Exercise is an obvious one, but it is crucial to kid’s lives:

  • Higher activity rates in children are correlated with higher test scores.
  • Exercise lowers the risk of many diseases and obesity.
  • Frequent exercise decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety in children.

Life Lessons

Athletics are competitions and in competitions, there are usually winners and losers. Sports can help kids learn how to cope with the fact that life is not perfect and sometimes you might lose or fail. Often times, those moments are the ones where we learn the most and motivate us to improve.

Literacy

Walk In Someone Else’s Shoes

The world of literature is filled with characters with different stories and worldviews. Connecting with these characters who have different values or perspectives and seeing that these characters are just like the reader produces empathy for others that kids might not get otherwise. Often times these experiences might not come unless you can travel the globe. The good news is that going to your local library is more affordable than traveling the world.

Education

Reading outside of the formal classroom is a large boon to your child’s learning. It will boost their vocabulary and make them more comfortable with school texts. Research indicates that when children are reached with high quality early learning experiences, they are 40% less likely to fall behind in school and 70% more likely to graduate from high school.

Health

Health can be a key benefit of reading, too. But perhaps it is less obvious than in sports. Reading has been shown to improve memorization. Getting engrossed in a story also reduces stress or anxiety. Creating a bedtime ritual of reading will also aid in sleep.

The great thing about sports and literacy is that you can start building passion and habits for them right now. It is as easy as heading to your local library, turning off the TV, reading to your kids, or going outside to play kick a soccer ball as a family.