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Writing Life

How to Win at Conventions

So, you want to go to a convention. Maybe you’ve attended conventions before, but now you want to go professionally — to make contacts, sell books, or to be a celebrity. Depending on the convention you attend, a booth/table could set you back a lot of money, so how do you make sure your con is successful?

We’ve spoken with several members of the Writing Bloc community who have attended conventions and compiled their tips for planning and executing a successful convention.

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Author Interview Writing Life

Interview with Cari Dubiel: Marketing books at conventions

This interview is part of a short series looking at marketing and selling books at conventions. You can find my interview with Rick Heinz here and my earlier interview with Rochelle Campbell here. In this post, I talk to Cari Dubiel. Stay tuned for my consolidated advice article dropping in the next few days.

Cari Dubiel

Cari DubielCari Dubiel is the author of How to Remember, forthcoming from Inkshares/Quill. The novel was the winner of the Hugh Holton award from the Mystery Writers of America – Midwest Chapter in 2017. Cari’s previous works include All the Lonely People, a book of short stories, and several other short stories found in anthologies and online magazines. Cari is also a librarian, and she served as the Library Liaison to Sisters in Crime for five years.

 

What conventions have you attended? Why did you pick those conventions? In hindsight, were those reasons valid?

I’ve attended the American Library Association and/or the Public Library Association conference every year since 2012. That was the year I started as Library Liaison to Sisters in Crime, which is a national organization of mystery readers and writers. My term ended in 2017. In that role, my job was to bring writers and librarians together – to help writers sell books and make partnerships with librarians, and to help librarians make connections with writers for their collections and public programming. Since I am both a writer and a librarian, this was an ideal way for me to get started learning about the convention experience. I’ve met so many interesting people and discovered some amazing books, and I’ve learned about the promotion experience from the writer’s side – something I didn’t know about at all before I joined Sisters in Crime. Since then, I’ve also attended some strictly writing conventions, and it’s been a strange but rewarding experience to switch back and forth between the two parts of my identity. This has been a fabulous experience for me, and while I might make different decisions if I were to do it again (see below), it was the right path at the time.

What were your objectives for the conventions you attended (e.g. Direct books sales, online sales, Facebook likes, email list sign-ups, etc.)? Do you feel you achieved those objectives?

We could not sell books directly at the conference, but we wanted to get face time between the librarians and the authors, so we set up signing times for each author with book giveaways. We also collected e-mail addresses. Each author was allowed to collect their own data, since we didn’t want to share organizational data due to privacy concerns. Authors would often have a newsletter mailing list for librarians to join. They also had bookmarks that librarians could use to order the titles when they got back to their library.

It was very tough to measure the success of the booth, because we didn’t have the sales data to draw from. I talked to every author after their signing time. Some were happy and others were… not so happy. I learned a lot about managing author expectations.

What was your strategy for engagement at the conventions? What did you have on display? How did you draw people in and engage? Did you have any incentives? Did you have physical copies of your books on hand?

Yes, we had tons of swag and giveaways. I mentioned the bookmarks – we also had pins and tote bag freebies. We allowed authors who couldn’t be there to send in copies of their books for giveaway. The free books were the biggest draw, especially when the author was there in the booth to sign them. Librarians – and I think readers in general – love to interact with writers and get personalized books. We also had an iPad giveaway for getting on the mailing list, so we usually collected about 500 e-mails per conference.

What did you feel worked well?

The quality of the interaction between the author and the reader was key. ALA brings in about 25,000 people per year. Not everyone who came by the booth wanted to talk to us – they grabbed free stuff and disappeared. When we were able to talk to readers and librarians about what they wanted, and people were able to make connections, cool stuff happened. I made connections with lots of people in the publishing industry, which has ultimately helped me to promote my work outside of conference-land. I hope the other authors I’ve worked with over the years have had similar experiences.

What didn’t work, or not as well as you had hoped?

My main concern was that we were not reaching everyone in our target audience. Not everyone can afford to travel and come to a big conference. I felt there were other ways to reach librarians online or through state and local conferences. When I transitioned my role over to the new Library Liaison, Shari Randall, we talked about ways to do that more strategically. I’m meeting up with her at this year’s ALA to talk about ways we can use our data and experiences to reach more people.

What other lessons have you learnt?

Authors have to think critically about how they use their conference time and how they distribute their swag. Bookmarks, while great, did not get taken as often as they hoped – and they’re expensive! Free books are also expensive, but readers love them, and if they read them, they might review and pass them on. Choosing the right conference/convention is also critical. Because I’m a librarian, ALA worked well for me, but I struggled in the writing-only space. I’m still getting used to that, and I still have a lot to learn in that arena.

I’ve seen some of my friends who write fantasy have great success in fan conventions and medieval faires. That, too, is part of knowing your audience. You have to go to the place where your readers go. ALA was a good opportunity for Sisters in Crime members because librarians and library patrons love mysteries.

Do you plan to attend more conventions to promote your book?

Yes! I won’t go to ALA every year now that I have stepped down from SinC, but I’m going to New Orleans this summer, and I can’t wait. I’m also looking forward to learning more about how to sell books at conventions and conferences!

How to Remember

Book Cover for How to RememberThank you to Cari for sharing her experiences with us. Cari is the author of How to Remember, which is currently in production with Inkshares. I encourage you to check it out.

2017: A woman tries to find out what happened to her during the year she lost her memory. 2016: A man tries to find out who killed his mother. They fell in love once, but she doesn’t remember it.

 

 

You can also find Cari online in the following places:

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Best Of This Month's Reads

Writing Bloc’s Best of May: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads May Edition

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing best reads series in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. This month, Robert Batten, Michael Haase, and Jacqui Castle all chimed in with their recommendations. Check out the first three books that made the cut.

Robert’s recommendation: The Fireman by Joe Hill

My book of the month is The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It came to me as a recommendation from one of my editors, which is high praise in itself. The Fireman is an apocalyptic horror by best-selling author Joe Hill. It takes us to a version of our world that is burning. Literally. A mysterious disease, known as dragonscale due to the markings it creates on the body, is causing mass spontaneous combustion. With the sheer number of people catching fire, almost everything else seems to be going up in flames too, including civilization. Into this setting we meet Harper, an uncompromisingly positive nurse with a fondness for Julie Andrews. Harper is amazing. She’s a charming mix of innocence, courage, and intelligence. Experiencing the world through her point of view is a delight.

“Harper put the novel back on his desk, cornering the edges of the manuscript so it stood in a neat, crisp pile. With its clean white title page and clean white edges, it looked as immaculate as a freshly made bed in a luxury hotel. People did all sorts of unspeakable things in hotel beds.”

The story is a slow burn, building the intensity as the disasters mount. The world is well-realized and the dragonscale fascination, but throughout it’s the characters and the prose that shine. The novel telegraphs each of the disasters and betrayals beautifully, letting you stress as the tension builds without spoiling the moment when it finally arrives.

“Almost as an afterthought, she put a box of kitchen matches on top of it as a paperweight. If her Dragonscale started to smoke and itch, she wanted to have them close at hand. If she had to burn, she felt it only fair that the fucking book burn first.”

If you enjoy dystopian / apocalyptic fiction, you should absolutely read The Fireman.

Michael’s Recommendation: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I enjoy reading and writing humor and satire, first and foremost. Somehow, this book slipped through the cracks. I never had this book recommended to me, so I feel obligated to push it forward. Yes, it’s a little older, as it was published in 1980. But wow, this book is so interesting and unique, a tale woven like no other. I haven’t read anything so clever and unique since Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. 

This is an odd book, admittedly. Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist, is almost as antihero as they come. He is fractious, disrespectful, and flatulent. He is a highly educated man who manipulates his environment to appease his fastidious needs. Ultimately, he is a man who is unable to see his own difficulties, constantly diverting his problems onto others while scraping by ina strange, purposeless existence. He is thirty years old, living with his mother in the heart of New Orleans, and his antics inadvertently set in motion events that change the lives of all the other characters around him. His is simultaneously lovable and repulsive, and the balance is held tightly by the magnificent writing. Ignatius might be strange and difficult to visualize as a hero, but he is infinitely quotable. For example:

“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

Ignatius, to me, is some of the most lovably worst parts of us with an unlimited vocabulary. The entire book is filled with oddball characters, each with their flaws and difficulties. But, in the end, you cheer for all. Go into it expecting a book like no other.

Jacqui’s Recommendation: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Okay, so I didn’t actually read this in May. I read it a few months ago. But, I wanted to start this series out by recommending this book because it had such a strong impact on me. The Knife of Never Letting Go is is one of those books that sticks with you, haunts you long after you’ve put it down. There are two other books in this series, and though I know I will love them, I haven’t picked them up yet for fear of what they might contain, whether I’ll be able to handle what comes next for our main character, Todd. I’ll get there…

In the town of Prentisstown, everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts. They refer to this as their ‘noise,’ and though the noise may get louder or softer, it never ceases. Every single person in Prentisstown is constantly surrounded by their own noise, and the noise of others, even the animals. If you think you have heard all the great stories there are to tell about a boy and his dog, think again. And have tissues nearby once you are ready to embark on this journey.

Todd’s world gets thrown upside down when he stumbles upon an area of silence. What is behind the silence, and where will it lead him?

I can hear it.

Well, I can’t hear it, that’s the whole point, but when I run toward it the emptiness of it is touching my chest and the stillness of it pulls at me and there’s so much quiet in it, no, not quiet, silence, so much unbelievable silence that I start to feel really torn up, like I’m about to lose the most valuable thing ever, like there it is, a death…

I hesitate to explain more about this story without delving into spoilers. All I will say is, read this immediately, and be ready to have it f#@k with your head long after the last page.

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Author Interview

Interview with Cari Dubiel: On Writing, Libraries, and Podcasts

Cari Dubiel has been a librarian for twelve years, and currently has her first book, How to Remember (a novel billed as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets What Alice Forgot) in production for a 2019 release. Cari was kind enough to answer a few questions for us!

First, I want to say congratulations on receiving a publishing contract for your book, How to Remember. Is How to Remember your debut book?

Yes! I’m so excited to have achieved my crowdfunding goal with Inkshares. I met the goal for the Quill imprint before it was sun-downed.

Can you tell us a little bit about the story and where you drew your inspiration?

The story follows Miranda Underwood, a neuroscientist, and Ben Baker, a computer programmer. Both of them set out to solve their personal mysteries one year apart. Miranda searches for the cause of her amnesia in 2017, while Ben fills in the blanks in 2016. He’s investigating his mother’s suspicious death.

Most of my stories spring from my frequent crazy dreams. I woke up with this idea, and I started to wonder what would happen to someone who found herself with this affliction, especially if she was an introvert who didn’t have many friends. Cut off from her job – with a company that’s complicit in the situation – she has to reach within herself to find inner strength.

What does your daily writing routine look like? Do you always write at the same time each day?

I have two little kids and the schedule of a public librarian (a lot of evenings and weekends). Every day is different! I write at least one chapter a week, about 2500 words. I squeeze the time in when I can get it, either in the mornings before my kids get up or when they’re in bed. Then there’s the rare glorious time when my parents take them for the weekend!

In addition to being an author, you are also a librarian. As someone who is surrounded by her pick of books, who are your favorite authors? Any underappreciated gems that you have stumbled upon?

That is a tough one. I read widely – picking favorite authors would be like picking a favorite child! I’ll highlight a few of my recent favorites, though. I just discovered Tom Sweterlitsch (The Gone World, Tomorrow and Tomorrow) – he writes about bleak, dystopian futures, time travel, alternate universes. He explores the dark heart of humanity, which sounds depressing, but both books illuminate the human spirit as well. I also recently finished a preview copy of Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway, a character-driven mystery in the style of Agatha Christie. I couldn’t stop rooting for the protagonist, Hal – yes, a likeable narrator in a thriller – they still exist!

Being a librarian, have you always known that you also wanted to write? When did you begin?

I’ve been writing since third grade. The two things I love the most in life are reading and writing, so I’ve always known I wanted to be a librarian and a writer. Of course, as a child I did not know that a librarian’s job is not, in fact, reading books all day. But we do get to talk about books, which is exciting!

What should new authors know about getting their books into the various library systems? Is the process different for self-published authors?

The first rule is to treat librarians with courtesy and establish a dialogue – a genuine, authentic conversation. Focus on why readers will like your book – make the librarian want to read it!

If you are traditionally published, the librarian might just buy the book for her collection. But for small press, indie, and self-published authors, you may have another hurdle to jump. It always helps if you are able to donate a copy, but if that’s not possible, make sure she knows where she can purchase it. You can also offer to present a program, but again, come prepared with the “hook” for potential attendees.

Always ask your librarian what you can do for her! Tailor your approach to each library as needed. I suggest starting with local libraries or those you have a personal connection with. Get the book into enough readers’ hands, and if it is a quality product, it might go viral.

Are there ways for authors to help each other out in regards to achieving a library presence?

As more authors make connections with libraries, they can share information about how individual systems operate. Libraries are so different – they have different resources, funding, populations. They offer services and programs based on the needs of their communities. Some writers’ organizations also have library outreach. I was the Library Liaison for Sisters in Crime for five years, and we did a lot of work helping authors connect with their local libraries and vice versa. I know the Horror Writers of America has a similar program.

Is there any additional advice you would give to new authors who wish to have their books in libraries?

Look into electronic distribution! Electronic media in libraries is growing more every year. In my library, the most popular services are OverDrive and hoopla (with the small “h”). Every library has different subscriptions, though, so check to see what your local library offers.

Tell us about the podcast that you are involved in – ABC Book Reviews Podcast.

Our podcast started in 2007, when my coworker, Beth, and I decided we needed an outlet to talk about books we loved. Back then, podcasts were not as sophisticated, though they were popular. The Wall Street Journal described us as “two girls talking on a bus.” We’ve retained that format, although we have revised our website, gone on many tangents, and had four kids between the two of us. We also took a break last year, since Beth got a library director job and I became a department head, but we’re back with new episodes now.

Podcasts are booming. What needs do you think creative podcasts are serving in the literary world?

I have to admit I’m not much of a podcast listener – not surprisingly, I prefer audiobooks! But I love the idea of podcasts as a way for creative people to produce and distribute their own media, amplifying diverse voices that may not otherwise find an audience. I’d like to seek out some writing-related podcasts to help me stay motivated, so I can hear those voices!

Thank you for your time, Cari. Any other parting advice that you would like to pass on as someone who is immersed in literature in both her day job and her personal life?

To stay sharp, I like to play outside with my kids – I hope better weather will come to Northeast Ohio soon! I also play the bassoon, and I love nerdy stuff, especially board games. The literary life is fantastic, but as with any job, breaks are essential.

 

Read more about Cari’s upcoming book How to Remember.

Interview first published on JacquiCastleWrites.com

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